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March 20, 2011

Calf care an important chore

As spring slowly approaches and the land begins to reappear from under its extra thick winter blanket of snow, we will soon be blessed with the green grass of spring.

Well, maybe a little mud first, but grass is right around the corner. My beef cows are starting to get restless from being cooped up and eating dry hay all winter, but soon the pastures will be filled with new calves and their protective mothers.

Spring on the farm is an exciting time with a lot of important tasks to be accomplished. Preparing machinery for the spring fieldwork and planting is a major undertaking. While larger farms may have crews devoted to machinery operation full-time, most local dairy farmers split their time between the milking barn and the tractor come spring and summer.

Between doing the feeding, milking, plowing, planting and haying, one can't help but become a little frazzled. It's during this time that one of the most important tasks on the farm might lack the attention it deserves.

Raising healthy calves is the goal of every farmer and maintaining a consistent and high-quality-care regimen is crucial. I recently attended a presentation by Dr. Sam Leadley, a highly regarded consultant on calf and heifer management. 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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