21 Feb Are your newborn’s prepared for the cold snap?
As 2 months of winter are behind us, and we have experienced our annual mid-winter thaw our little ones both 2 –legged and 4-legged must be prepared for the winter months ahead. Calf management, whether you are feeding 3 calves or 300 revolves around 4 essential factors; colostrum, nutrition, environment, and monitoring. Once the calf has arrived it is our job to ensure that each calf starts out with the right tools for success.
A cow begins preparing her colostrum as early as 5 weeks prior to the calf’s arrival. With a strict vaccination protocol and nutrition plan, that dry cow will produce a high quality wholesome IgG filled meal for her new calf. Dr. Sandra Godden, Professor at University of Minnesota Veterinary School describes colostrum management as the 5 Q’s ( Quality, Quantity, Quickness, sQueaky clean, Quantifying passive transfer). Ideally each calf should receive 4 quarts of colostrum with <greater than 50 g/L of IgG within 6 hours of birth. IgG is immunoglobulins which are produced by the dam and once consumed rapidly absorbed through the calf’s’ gut. This colostrum should be “squeaky clean” per Dr. Godden and free of environmental contaminants either from the udder or the milk pail in the milk house. Passive transfer, a term we use on farm to gauge our colostrum management program, as well as a tool to know that our newborn has started on the right hoof! Passive transfer is measured through serum total protein, which is a blood test taken from the calves at 2-10 days in age. We want that number to be higher than 5.5. Those calves that have failure of passive transfer, are more likely to experience health problems within the near future.
Calves in the winter months require more energy for growth and development. Most farms feed each calf 2 quarts twice a day. During winter months, it is recommended to counterpart the cold stress with a third feeding or adjusting the calf feeding program to continue promoting growth in your calves.
One tool to success is the environment in which the calf is brought into and taken to after birth. The calving pens should be clean, dry and bedded with fresh sawdust or straw. Once the calf is born and processed it should be moved to a clean, warm, dry area, whether a calf hutch, greenhouse, heating box etc. During the winter months, each dry calf should be blanketed. Interestingly enough a calf’s’ thermoneutral zone is 50 to 78 degrees. Any temperatures above or below this temperature will require the calf to spend energy reserves to maintain its’ body temperature.
While feeding calves, take a few steps back and observe. During chores is a great time to look at each calf individually and assess them for normal behavior, eating habits and pick up on any calf with disease. Whether it be a simple cough, runny nose, or a calf that doesn’t anxiously greet you at the hutch door at feeding time, if not caught early can and will become a problem in the near future.
Although calves are not productive at a young age consider their first 12 weeks of their life to be the most crucial in future productivity. Colostrum management monitoring, quality nutrition, a clean environment and early detection with allow each calf to grow to its fullest potential.