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.



The placenta is the membrane that connects the fetus with the dam. The button-like structures of the placenta (cotyledons) connect with the caruncles of the uterus (see Figure 1). It is through these unions (placentomas) that nutrients are transferred from the mother to the calf.

After a normal calving, the fetal membranes will be expelled within 30 minutes to 8 hours. If the fetal membranes have not been released after 12 hours, the cow will have a condition known as retained fetal membranes (RFM).

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About 10 years ago in a research trial, calves were fed a 29 percent CP, 19 percent fat milk replacer powder at different rates. Calves were not fed starter. The trial ended when calves reached 230 pounds of bodyweight and the researchers observed that the calves responded to feeding rate with rather dramatic weight gains and efficiency of gain.

This research from Cornell University challenged the way that calves had been fed in the U.S. for decades. Subsequent research from the University of Illinois showed that calves fed milk replacer (again no starter was fed) respond to protein in the diet but that the response is also dependent upon the amount of energy consumed by the calves.

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Scours is not a new problem. But despite all the information available to prevent scours with better management protocols and vaccination, it’s a problem that’s getting worse instead of better. Calf scours, or neonatal diarrhea, continues to be a leading cause of mortality and sickness among dairy calves.

Scours can cause more financial loss to your operation than any other disease-related problem. From antibiotics and electrolyte solutions to veterinarian visits and treatment costs, managing scours on the dairy can cost thousands of dollars in out-of-pocket expenses.

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Every dairy producer knows the importance of feeding enough high-quality colostrum to newborn dairy calves. However, getting the right amount of clean colostrum into the calf as early as possible can be a real challenge. Limited labor resources, less-than-optimal facilities or lack of training often make the tasks of managing newborns one of the lower priorities on the dairy farm.

This is particularly true when newborns are bull calves. However, the long-term implications of poor colostrum management are profound. Calves that receive adequate passive immunity are healthier, have less scours, grow faster and make more milk when they enter the herd compared to calves that receive inadequate passive immunity. It’s important to the calf to do colostrum “right.”

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Calf rearing involves many processes. Caring for newborn calves, managing colostrum, feeding, dehorning preweaned calves are all examples. Each process could have a protocol – a written description of the process. Each protocol consists of steps in the order in which they should be done. And each step describes an action – a clear description including criteria that define the action in measurable terms.

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Scours prevention

Neonatal diarrhea, more commonly known as calf scours, is the leading cause of death in dairy calves in the first month of life. Furthermore, the treatment of scours is difficult, labor-intensive, costly and often unsuccessful.

That’s why Kevin Hill, D.V.M., Manager of Dairy Technical Services for Intervet/Schering-Plough Animal Health, preaches prevention of neonatal diarrhea through the implementation of best management practices.

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