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AGRO SOLUTIONS: Growing your future cows starts now, experts say

Raising replacement heifers is costly, but raising heifers that will perform poorly as lactating cows will cost you more, say Purina’s calf and heifer specialists…

Raising replacement heifers is costly, but raising heifers that will perform poorly as lactating cows will cost you more, say Purina’s calf and heifer specialists Connie Walters and Rebecca Klopp.

Raising replacement heifers is costly, but raising heifers that will perform poorly as lactating cows will cost you more. Getting the new generation of lactating cows in your herd on the track is crucial.

Purina’s calf and heifer specialists Connie Walters, veterinarian, and Rebecca Klopp, Ph.D., sat down with Successful Farming to share tips for improving longevity and performance of heifer calves.

“Starting a calf on the right path and supporting the growth of good bacteria in the gut is going to lead to a heifer calf that not only grows better, but she’s going to become a more productive and efficient cow later on in life,” says Klopp.

What should a dairy farmer do in the first 12 hours after birth to achieve that perfect first day of life?

Rebecca Klopp: Great question! Three key elements to achieve a perfect first day are environment, dipping the navel, and quality colostrum. I often ask farmers to think about the environment that the calf is born into. First, the maternity pen should be clean. People often think putting fresh bedding on top is solving the problem — It’s not. Scraping out the old bedding and manure will ensure the pen is a dry and clean spot for the calf. It also limits harmful bacteria exposed to the calf.

I also recommend dipping the navel with iodine. Dipping the navel — an open cavity — will help lessen the chance of bacteria entering the calf’s bloodstream, which can make it sick later in life. The last piece is colostrum and ensuring the calf gets enough of it. I recommend giving them a volume of colostrum that is close to 10% of their body weight. For Holsteins, that’s about four liters; for Jerseys, it’s about three liters. Giving the calf colostrum from a clean bottle within the first four hours increases the probability of efficient absorption of colostrum antibodies.

If you miss those pieces, calves will struggle within the first two months of life.

Connie Walters: As a veterinarian, I focus on first-day hygiene more than anything. I also tell farmers to consider giving a second feeding within 12 hours of the first. What I’ve seen in the field is if a farmer can get that second feeding in, the heifer calf will be more vigorous.

I had one farm change its calf care routine from feeding four quarts of unpasteurized colostrum in a busy calving area to calving cows in disinfected maternity pens. They left the calves with moms until they stood because of the site’s cleanliness. In this new routine the farm fed four quarts of pasteurized colostrum at birth, then within eight hours of that first feeding, gave the calves two quarts of pasteurized colostrum.

As a result, I saw the farm reduce its medication treatment expenses by $10 per calf per month. That’s a considerable reduction. It didn’t hold up every month because some heifer calves had health concerns pop up over time, but it was a dramatic drop in antibiotic costs. Sometimes, we underestimate the positive impact of high-quality colostrum and proper hygiene during a calf’s first day. I don’t think everybody needs to have a pasteurizer, but everybody needs to have their milk as clean as possible and try to fit as many colostrum feedings that they can on that first day.

Source: successful farming

 

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