Getting Off To A Good Start

Calves are the future of your herd. Ensuring that they get the best start in life helps you to have a healthy and profitable herd in the future. Emily Payne explains more.

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Emily Payne explains the importance of calf health for the future of your herd.

Calves are the future of your herd. Ensuring that they get the best start in life helps you to have a healthy and profitable herd in the future. Sadly, they are often not given the attention they deserve, and calf health can fall by the wayside.

Calving heifers at over two years of age has been estimated by AHDB to cost farms £2.87/cow/day. For example, they have calculated that calving heifers at 28 months costs a whopping £344 extra per heifer! Do you know what age you are calving down at and how much this is costing/saving you?

So where do you start? The answer – day one! Ensuring calves get enough good quality colostrum, ideally within two hours of birth, is vital. Maternal antibodies are transferred in colostrum, as calves are born with a very limited immune system, and the uptake of these antibodies is vital to their survival in the first few weeks of life. There are different ways of measuring if colostrum is of good enough quality:

  1. Colostrometer: This is a glass instrument that you place into the milk (ideally at 22°C, as temperature can affect readings) and assess the specific gravity. Handily, they are labelled up with a green, amber and red traffic light system.
  2. Refractometer: Brix refractometers require a drop of colostrum to be put on a slide and are then read by pointing the refractometer towards a light source and reading off a scale. A reading of 22% and above equates to high enough quality colostrum. They are easier to use and more accurate than a colostrometer.

To check if a calf has had sufficient colostrum a quick blood sample can be taken and tested by any of the vets. This is a quick and easy process that can easily be added to the end of a routine visit to keep an eye on calves and colostrum quality. If you have any further questions about this or are interested in taking some samples to check maternal antibody transfer, please speak to one of the vets.

Finally, many colostrum replacers are available on the market. When using a colostrum replacer it is important to ensure that it is a colostrum replacer and not a milk replacer. Some powders available have more synthetic antibodies available than others and so it is always important to ensure the correct products are being used. An alternative to this is to store colostrum from disease-free cows that have excess, high quality colostrum to offer.

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