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Calves & Heifers

The future of your herd depends on quality colostrum, milk or replacer feeding and disease control along with proper bedding, sanitation and ventilation.

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A heifer is your future. Many farmers believe this to be true and have been committed to raising every heifer for their operation.

A lot of cash has been allocated to improve calf management, age at first calving, reproduction and genetics. But times are changing and heifer management will need to follow.

If you look at the last 90 years, we have increased the number of dairy heifers. In Figure 1 we can see that up to about 1960, the inventory of heifers above 500 lbs was about 20 to 25 percent of the cow herd.

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Sick calves are no fun. At the beginning of July, my research group started a study with sixty newborn bull calves from commercial dairy farms. Our objective was to find combinations of milk replacer and starter grain additives that promote calf performance and health in the absence of medicated milk replacer.

Let’s take a look at some of the reasons for calf scours, strategies to prevent it, and protocols to treat calves when these challenges arrive at a calf hutch near you.

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Feeding and management practices of dairy calves directly impact not only their survival, but as importantly, their future milk production.

Recent studies which have followed calves through their first lactation have shown a positive relationship between early life nutrient intake and first-lactation milk production. In addition, new research has shown additional benefits of proper colostrum intake on calf health.

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Post-weaned dairy calves endure a considerable amount of stress during the move into group housing. Multiple stressors – a new environment, diet change, social adjustments, even transportation – all combine to weaken the calf’s natural defense system.

At the same time, commingling with other calves increases pathogen exposure and encourages disease-causing organisms to flourish. This combination of reduced immunity at a time of larger pathogen loads allows respiratory disease-causing bacteria to penetrate the calf’s natural defenses and causes clinical pneumonia. In fact, respiratory disease is the cause of almost half of all heifer deaths after weaning.

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There are probably as many ways to raise dairy replacements as there are people raising dairy replacements. Most of these methods are successful; however, everyone knows that some are more successful than others.

At the most recent ADSA meetings in Denver last summer, we presented an evaluation of data we have collected to determine what impacts growth of neonatal calves through eight weeks old.

In the past, we have explored nutritional factors and how they influenced growth of neonatal calves. In this article, we explore more management and environmental factors and how they influence growth of neonatal calves.

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Ask a student about colostrum, and the response will be passive immunity. That’s correct, but it is only part of the story with respect to the biological activity of colostrum.

Colostrum is the first milk produced by the mammary gland prior to parturition. This first milk is rich in immunoglobulins (proteins) as well as other chemical constituents and cells that impact the health of the newborn calf.

At birth the calf is very susceptible to disease because in cattle there is little, if any, placental transfer of antibodies, in contrast to humans where placental transfer of antibodies from mother to fetus is high.

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