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January 6, 2013

Off to a good start

As winter finally arrived in force and the pastures begin to disappear under an extra thick blanket of snow, I am already looking forward to spring. Winter can be hard on the farm; frozen pipes, broken machinery and snow-removal chores can make a “short” winter day really long.

My beef cows are pretty tough, wintering outside in the cover of pine trees, but they will soon start to get restless from being cooped up and eating dry hay all winter. Come springtime, the pastures will be filled with new calves and their protective mothers.

While beef calves are typically raised on pasture nursing on their mothers, dairy calves depend on the farmer to provide food, shelter and other care needed to keep them healthy and growing well. The cold weather makes proper calf care even more important. Raising healthy calves is the goal of every farmer and maintaining a consistent and high-quality care regimen is crucial.

Last year I attended a presentation by Dr. Sam Leadley, a highly regarded consultant on calf and heifer management. Dr. Leadley participated in developing the Dairy Calf and Heifer Association Gold Standards for calf care. The Gold Standards give dairy farmers and calf raisers guidelines by which calf mortality and illness can be reduced and future cow performance can be enhanced.

Record keeping of birth dates, weights, growth rate and treatment for illness are all important to manage for desired goals. The Gold Standards aim is to have calves double in weight by 60 days.

The key to a good start is to be sure that high-quality colostrum is fed to every calf in the first four hours of its life. High quality is of utmost importance. The maternal antibodies that colostrum provides can be overwhelmed by disease-causing bacteria if proper washing, stripping and dipping procedures are not carried out.

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