We all know that providing tremendous quality of care to our newborn calves increases the livelihood of our dairy. So let’s take some time to talk about how we can go about giving all newborn calves that same wonderful quality of care. Giving the best start in life is not a one-step and done kind of deal, it is a multifaceted process. It includes the location of the maternity area and how it is kept, steps and tools used by your employees, the employee’s knowledge, workload, and ease in an effort to give care to all calves. It also includes the calf’s quality of life by feeding it colostrum.
First and Foremost the Maternity Area:
This is where our calves’ journeys begin. You should show enormous care when setting up your maternity area, it is separate and completely different from other parts of your dairy. This area should be in a quiet place in the barn, separate from the rest of the herd. Many larger dairies have a group pen or even specialized barns just for the maternity area, where they house 6-10 cows that are ready to give birth. These group pens need to be large enough to give each cow 100-150 sq. ft. The flooring needs to be sand, dirt, or clay with 6-10” of fresh clean straw. This will aid in the footing of the cow during labor and delivery. This amount of space will help to prevent injuries to both calves and workers during the calving process. The maternity area also needs to be well lighted, well ventilated and kept clean. Having a well-lit space will help your employees better observe the laboring cows and be able to attend to them more quickly if there are any difficulties during calving. Keeping that area well ventilated will prevent sickness from toxic gases, such as ammonia and hydrogen sulfide gases. You want to make sure that your calf care team can easily observe the laboring cows and intervene when necessary. This will help to decrease mortality rates on the farm.
Caring for Calves in the First Moments of Life:
Once a calf is born, the hard work begins. Here is where the employees have to be on their toes, there is so much to do in those first few moments of a newborn calf’s life. Having your maternity area set up properly will help your employees deliver fast and efficient care. Resulting in each calf getting the same high-quality care because your steps are easily repeatable. Also, these steps should be reviewed annually not only by you and your team but by your veterinarian as well.
What are those crucial first steps that the employee needs to be taking?
- Feeding the calf 4 liters of high-quality colostrum (50 IgG/liter) within the first half-hour of life for a total of 200g IgG. Calves need 10% of their body weight of colostrum within the first 12 hours of life.
- Rubbing the calf dry-you will need to stimulate breathing if the calf doesn’t readily breathe on its own, you will need to wipe the nose and mouth clean as well.
- Dipping the navel with iodine to disinfect the umbilical cord and prevent bacteria from entering the calf’s body in this area.
- Tagging the ears accordingly.
- Moving the calf to a clean, dry pen so it doesn’t get trampled by the mother. Each calf requires its own pen or hutch. The pens and hutches need at least 6” of bedding that is routinely cleaned and replenished. The pens/hutches need to be warm, during the winter months (when it is below 32°F), otherwise, calf jackets and heat lamps may be needed. These calf housing criteria play a critical role in the. calf’s health, welfare, and future performance.
Happy Employees Means Happy Calves:
Why would having happy employees mean having happy calves? Well, let me explain: First, an employee who has the right tools will be able to deliver the care that the laboring cow and newborn calf need. Having ergonomically designed tools also helps employees deliver more efficient care, because using items like a backpack for feeding the colostrum, eliminates the burden of trying to hold everything in their hands to placing the cartridge full of colostrum on their backs, freeing their hands to properly feed the calf. Happy employees are employees that know exactly what to do and when to do it. Having clear, easy to follow steps posted in the area, also helps to eliminate frustrations of the employees. If it is all laid out in front of them, they don’t have to waste precious time trying to find someone to help or trying to remember all the steps, then they can focus on the calf.
Having the training, easy to follow protocols, and the proper tools at their side helps to eliminate the frustration that sometimes comes with not knowing what to do or where something is. It is hard to care properly for a calf when you are frustrated or tired.
Colostrum is the Ticket to Healthy, Happy Calf:
Why is colostrum such a big deal to neonatal calf welfare? We all know that calves are not born with natural immunity and if they fail to get passive transfer of antibodies, then they are at risk for both morbidity and mortality. During the first 1 hour of the calf’s life is the best time to deliver the antibodies found in the colostrum. The best way to ensure that they get the best start at a healthy life is to hand feed high-quality colostrum.
In our blog post, Why do Calves get Scours? We highlighted the fact that high-quality colostrum can minimize the chances of scours. Remember, if the calf doesn’t get enough passive immunity they are at risk of getting scours. The most common time to see scours is within 7-14 days of birth and then it is too late and we are left scrambling to find a cure.
This is why we need to get all of our calves the best start in life by being fed high-quality colostrum a minimum of 4 liters in the first half-hour of life. The colostrum needs to be fed at a temperature of 102°F. The colostrum should be pasteurized and stored correctly. All stored colostrum should be labeled with the quality clearly marked on it. The first feeding should provide greater than 200 g of IgG.
How Do I Obtain this “Liquid Gold” Standard?
The answer is easier than you think, you need to start looking at the way you take care of your colostrum. Maybe you already have some protocols in place and want to take the next step to ensure healthy, happy calves and promoting neonatal calf welfare. It is time to look into a colostrum management system, where you can test, pasteurize, store, thaw, and feed the colostrum with ease. Having a system in place also helps to have happy employees who can get the job done right. They will be equipped with the right tools that have been ergonomically designed to make their job easier and less stressful, so they can focus on the calves.