Current Progressive Dairy digital edition

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.


As the weather warms up, flies return to dairy farms with a vengeance, much to the annoyance of cattle and humans alike. Young dairy calves are especially vulnerable because their hutches or pens can be breeding grounds for flies. When calves are bothered by flies, they’re not eating. And if they’re not eating, they’re not growing.

Irritation and disease
Flies are responsible for carrying and transmitting bacterial and viral agents by flying from calf to calf. Pinkeye is one of the infections that calves can develop as a result. This irritating infection negatively can impact the production and overall health of dairy animals, especially vulnerable calves.

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Two elements of calving management can make a big difference in newborn calf health. They are stress and pathogen exposure.

Managing stress
Deliveries requiring assistance are common among Holstein dams. In a large-scale calving study (7,380 calvings), many dairy heifers and cows required assistance at calving.

Among these dams “more than half (51.2 percent) of calves born to first-calf heifers (primiparous dams), compared to 29.4 percent of calves born to second-lactation and later cows (multiparous dams), required assistance during calving.” They monitored these calves for 120 days to evaluate both death and sickness rates.

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Let’s start out our conversation about this topic by reminding ourselves that calves thrive on consistency. One element of this consistent care is their milk replacer. How do we arrange our work to produce high-quality consistent milk replacer every feeding, every day?

Follow the manufacturer’s instructions

Each manufacturer has options for both ingredients and processes when making milk replacer. Depending on the choices that are made by the manufacturer, an individual milk replacer will have relatively unique mixing requirements to achieve the best quality reconstituted product.

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A goal for calf raisers, which has been endorsed by the Dairy Calf and Heifer Association, is for calves to double their birth weight by 60 days of age. During this time, young herd replacements should also add 4 to 5 inches of height to their structural growth. To achieve these benchmarks, calf raisers will need to feed a full potential nutrition program, including a 28 percent protein milk replacer, along with a 22 percent protein, highly palatable calf starter.

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Colostrum management is a frequent topic of discussion in animal husbandry, but less attention has been given to colostrogenesis – the formation and concentration of colostrum in the cow.

The importance of antibodies in the prevention of disease in the first weeks of life is well documented in most species. Calves, however, are born without any significant level of antibody protection because there is no exchange of antibodies from cow to calf through the bloodstream prior to birth. The calf can only access these life-saving antibodies and other important immune factors through the ingestion of colostrum in the first few hours after birth.

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Whether you raise calves for your own dairy or for others, raising calves well is crucial to the success of your operation. The aspects of nutrition, health and economics are not only vital, but are interrelated. One way to maximize all three of these aspects is to raise the bar and aim for better performance.


Colostrum is critically important in the first hours of a calf’s life. Many experts recommend feeding calves good quality colostrum at the rate of at least 12 percent of their bodyweight within one hour of birth.

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