According to calf rearer Jannine Brennan the single most important piece of advice she can give to people rearing calves is keep the process as stress-free as possible.
Ms Brennan spoke at International Dairy Week.
She rears about 800 calves a year through her Geelong facility, calves that she picks up from many different farms.
She has seen it time and time again, calves that receive adequate, quality colustrum at birth and are kept as stress-free as possible, grow out the best and are the easiest to rear.
Causes of stress include a difficult birth, poor or inadequate colostrum intake, separation from dam, transport, milk feeding and treatment.
She recommends a calf be fed no more than 1.5 to 2 litres of colostrum at birth (dependent on size: 1.5 litres for Jerseys, 2 litres for Friesians) and then six hours later another feed.
``Ideally a cow should be milked out as soon as she has calved. A calf sucking off a cow with faeces on her teats is enough to make a calf sick,’’ Ms Brennan said.
Calves can easily pick up bugs during transport so make sure trailers or utes are clean and disinfected with a product such as vircon.
Ms Brennan feeds her calves with milk in the morning and electrolytes for the first 7-10 days at night; after that it is just the morning feed.
Calves have adlib access to hay, grain/pellets and clean water.
To avoid stress Ms Brennan usually inoculates, ear tags or castrates while the calves are drinking.
She recommends farmers stay away from using antibiotic milk during rearing because the bugs living in the milk can make calves sick. It can also contribute to antibiotic resistance in the future.
Calf rearing tips:
Bring milk to the calf, not the calf to the milk.
Avoid temperature variations (ideally close to body temperature).
Keep quality and milk volumes consistent.
Keep feeding times consistent.
Avoid antibiotic milk; it destroys good bugs.
Use teat feeding over bucket feeding.
Keep areas clean, well ventilated and avoid cramped pens – industry standard is a minimum of 2 cubic metres per calf.
Keep dogs away from calves.
At weaning keep the calves in the same pen, just stop feeding milk. They will adjust better if they stay in a familiar environment and will also increase their grain intake faster.
The use of probiotics encourages good gut health and improves overall calf health.