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A warm weather plan of action helps calves grow

Devin Hyde Published on 18 April 2014

warm weather care dairy calves

As winter fades into spring, calves face a changing climate. Dairy producers can reduce the stress of the impending warm weather by implementing simple strategies to their daily calf care regiment.

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Feed and water
A well-managed feeding program provides calves with a foundation for future growth. Calves are born without a functioning rumen. Offering water and calf starter as early as one to three days after birth allows fermentation to occur and triggers critical rumen development.

Introduce calves to starter by feeding a handful at first and steadily increase the offering as the calf consumes more. Refrain from overfilling feed buckets as calves enjoy licking the bottom of the feed pail while eating. Giving the correct amount of feed prevents staleness and spoilage.

High quality starter contains at least 20 percent protein to help aid in body conditioning and meeting energy demands of calves during the summer months. Starters that contain highly digestible organic trace minerals provide efficient nutrients and absorption at the cellular level.

It is recommended that calves be fed starter until 12 weeks of age to encourage strong feed consumption through the stress caused by weaning, grouping and/or moving, vaccination and dehorning.

Offering free choice water should begin one to two days after birth. Drinking water encourages calves to eat more feed, which can lead to increased rumen development, faster growth and an earlier weaning age.

Although it may take extra time to empty and refill water buckets several times throughout the day, fresh water can benefit a calf by maintaining hydration and can improve starter intake. Typically, calves will drink anywhere from 1 to 2.4 gallons of water per day, if offered free-choice. Installing a divider between the feed and water or milk pail is one method to prevent discarding wet feed.

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Housing
Calves tend to thrive in a cool, comfortable environment during warm weather. Understanding the impact of air quality on calf health is important.

Depending on the type of housing, several methods can be used to ensure proper ventilation and reduce heat stress. Propping up a corner of calf hutches and opening vents increases airflow. Keeping hutches out of direct sunlight is another way to reduce the heat of summer.

Air movement in buildings can be achieved through the use of fans and by opening curtains, or by implementing a positive-pressure ventilation system in certain facilities.

Straw or corn stalks are common calf bedding sources, but considering sand bedding in the summer months is a good option due to added comfort, as well as absorptive capabilities.

Any bedding should be kept clean and dry, of course. Avoiding an accumulation of waste feed, manure or water in calf housing helps prevent creating an environment that promotes the spread of threatening pathogens and annoying flies.

Comfort
Small changes in a calf’s daily routine can create stress, which often leads to body condition loss and even death. Common stressors include feed changes, weaning, dehorning, vaccination, moving to group housing and changes in weather. Limiting these transitions can make for the consistency calves thrive on.

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You won’t stop all flies from entering a calf raising area but the population can be managed to create a comfortable place for calves to grow. Starting early in the season, rather than later, will curb fly populations dramatically.

Using a calf starter and milk replacer with a feed-through larvicide is a good way to preemptively combat flies that are prolific in warm weather. Feed-through larvicides help prevent adult flies from developing and emerging from the manure of the calves consuming the feed. Larvicide is advantageous for farmers, as it requires no extra application time.

Scattering fly bait and using pesticides are good options when flies get out of control, always review product usage recommendations as to not use a harmful amount.

Manure and spoiled feeds are an ideal habitat for flies to reproduce in. Cleaning calf pens on a regular basis will help minimize the opportunity for flies to procreate.

Considering feed, water, housing and calf comfort will help reduce overall stress and increase the likelihood of healthy calves. Implementing a plan of action for the upcoming warm weather will help allow calves to achieve maximum growth at an earlier age, and help aid in the overall success of your herd. PD

Devin Hyde Purina Animal Nutrition—Devin Hyde is a calf and heifer specialist with Purina Animal Nutrition. She can be reached at: (507) 226-5126 or by email.

PHOTO
Photo courtesy of Purina Animal Nutrition.

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