Kristy, who has reared over 2700 calves, gets satisfaction from seeing them thrive and understands the importance of maintaining a consistent attitude towards every calf, regardless of its expected use.
Kristy agrees it’s essential that calves receive top quality colostrum within the first six hours of life. The best quality, ‘gold’ colostrum, comes from a cow’s first milking after calving. Calves that don’t receive colostrum in the first 12 hours after birth are more likely to get scours or pneumonia and twice as likely to die in the first two months.
“Establishing good communication and a plan with the milking team is really important,” says Kristy.
“Getting the right amount of colostrum for the amount of expected calves can be tricky. Make sure you get the good stuff every day and get more than you need. You are better to feed any spare gold colostrum to the older calves than not have enough for the newborns.”
Good systems increase efficiency
Working with multiple calf rearers, or on farms where there might be shared responsibly for calf care, requires a good system so calves don’t get missed.
Kristy recommends having a good marking system so you know which calves have been fed their first two litres of colostrum (within the first six hours of life) and their second feed (within the first 12 hours of life), and if they have been tubed or bottle fed.
“We use a different coloured spray marker for calves that come in overnight and those collected during the day. A cross is used to identify calves that are tube fed and dots for calves that are bottle fed. It is then clear which calves need their second lot of colostrum and if they are likely to drink from a bottle.”
Kristy also says it’s important that there are written procedures for all staff to refer to.
“If you have multiple people, or bigger groups of calves in one pen, shaving foam can be used to provide temporary marking until the spray marking is put on, to help ensure all calves get marked.”
“Training on how to correctly tube feed calves when necessary is important for new staff. It can be a daunting task on the first go, so ensure new members are coached through the process – point out what is normal and what means you might have it wrong.
“The first few tube feedings should be supervised until new team members are confident doing the procedure by themselves.”
Patience and passion essential
“Patience and a passion for calves is essential, spend as much time as needed on each new calf to teach them to drink,” says Kristy.
“Colostrum is great stuff but it needs to be provided alongside other basic care to really make sure it does its job and provides the calf with a great start to life.”
This article was originally published in Inside Dairy June 2015