Animal Health

Raising babies

By Dairy News

Animal adviser Bob James provided an animated and colourful lesson in calf rearing for the crowd attending the South Australian Dairy Conference in March.

The American scientist encouraged, cajoled and inspired the group to raise healthier calves for better, long-term results.

“This is not rocket science,” Dr James said, often referring to the calves as “your babies”.

He said common failures in calf rearing were attributed to the calf rearers and the facilities.

“Have your most neurotic worker on the job in calf rearing, to make sure things are done every time.

“If your wife or spouse is hell on wheels that’s where they should be working.

It’s a big deal. You screw it up and you are fighting the whole rest of the time raising that calf.”

And he urged farmers not to be miserly with feeding.

“What’s the cheapest calf program? Don’t feed the little buggers!” he said sarcastically.

“Some people feed them four litres a day. You are not even meeting the maintenance requirements of the calf.”

He spoke against feeding once a day. Dr James put it this way: “Ask yourself, which meal you would like today!”

He placed a heavy emphasis on feeding clean colostrum quickly.

“There is a reason that Mother Nature puts it there. Feeding quality colostrum has a real impact on the calf for their growth and development.

“We are only just starting to understand the function that (these elements) have.

“If you don’t take the time to feed colostrum correctly, you will spend the time treating sick calves.”

He said if that was not possible, use dried colostrum and mix it up.

Dr James said studies had revealed that cows had a unique nutrition system.

“The mother puts some of her immune cells in the colostrum. But the calf will only absorb mum’s immune cells and not cells from another mum.

“There are some big operations which feed the mother’s colostrum to the calf, within about 45 minutes. This is nice if we can do it. It can be tough to do.

“Fresh colostrum or flash frozen.”

Sanitation was also important.

“I go on to some farms and I look at where they are putting the colostrum and it’s enough to gag a maggot.

“Would you drink it?

“Cool it or feed it as soon as possible.

“Minimise the time between milking and feeding.”

Dr James said the benefit of colostrum was now being recognised in health food diets, and commonly used to cure travel sickness.

Dr James is a dairy consultant from the Department of Dairy Science at Virginia Tech, United States.

Normal calf nutrition:

  • High quality liquid 
  • diet available 24/7
  • Small frequent meals
  • Large volume early in life
  • Low bacteria content

Tips from Dr James

1. Calves must be born in a clean environment.

2. Feed your calves clean, fresh colostrum early in life.

3. Feed your calves a quality calf milk replacer. Ideally, the calf milk replacer should be high in protein with a fat content above 20 per cent.

4. Feed your calves a good calf starter which is high in palatability and presented well.

5. Provide adequate supply of clean water. Test your water regularly.

6. Look after your calf rearers and they will look after your calves.