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.
Leadley stressed that since the cow has not been milking in some time, teat ends usually need extra attention to avoid contamination during the first milking. Once obtained, extra colostrum needs to be cooled rapidly and can be frozen for future use in cases where good colostrum is not available. One useful tip given was to freeze colostrum in large zip-style freezer bags, but only one quart at a time to speed thawing time.
Once calves have made the transition to regular milk or milk replacer, calves should be moved to clean, dry, draft-free housing with good air quality and enough room so the calf can turn around. Tying calves up in the manger of a steamy, damp, poorly ventilated cow barn is just asking for trouble in the form of scours and pneumonia.
Preventing pneumonia at an early age will protect the calf from lung damage that can haunt them into adulthood by reducing growth rates and age at first breeding as well as future milk production. Another tip from Leadley was the importance of follow through when treating pneumonia or scours. Treatment should be administered as recommended for the full regimen to avoid reoccurrence of the disease and the possibility of mortality or resistance to future treatment.
Once off to a good start, calves should be fed a high-quality diet designed to keep them growing, healthy and happy. Being creatures of habit, calves do best with consistent care and familiar faces. Keep this in mind during the busy spring planting season and try limiting calf care to a small group of staff.
Following the Gold Standards for calf care will go a long way toward growing healthy heifers that will become productive cows. For more information about the Gold Standards, visit the Dairy Calf and Heifer Association's website at http://www.calfandheifer.org.
If you would like information on future Dairy Institute classes, contact Peter Hagar at 561-7450 or firstname.lastname@example.org.