Invest 3 Days in the Newborn Calves and Harvest Healthy Heifers in Six Months

Care of Newborn Calves 

The successful dairy businesses will earn 30 % of their revenue from calf rearing to replace culled cows and excess superior heifers can be sold to other breeders. Many dairy farmers, however, neglect calf rearing thinking it is a long-term and high-risk investment. Many studies world over have proved that heifer replaced from within the herd would always give more milk and would remain productive in the farm for a longer period of time. The strategy of replacing heifers or cows from purchases is ridden with a high risk of introducing new infections and the performance of such cows would always be lower than in the parent farm. There are top 7 rules for the Caring for Newborn calves and Healthy Heifers such as Feeding colostrum, De-worming, cutting the umbilical cord, etc.

Rules for Management of Calf Rearing

Rule 1: Nutrition and health of cow in pregnancy is the starting point 

Studies have shown that the birth weight of calf is a good indicator of calf’s survival and growth which in turn is dependent on how well the cow was fed during the last trimester of the pregnancy. It is therefore important to keep a record of calf birth weight so that you can correct pregnant cow feeding and care problems if any Vaccinating pregnant cows are also important since this will ensure enough antibodies in colostrum and the calf will also be protected for first few months against infectious diseases.

Rule 2: Early help to painless calving

Studies have shown that more than 50% of the calf deaths are attributable to difficult birth which not only exhausts the cow but also compromises colostrum output and milk production. As far as possible be ready to extend any help the cow may need. Administering epidural anesthesia in case the cow is going through labor pain would also be helpful. If possible, keep the vet informed of progress in calving, especially if the cow or heifer is high producing.

Rule 3: Be prepared to spend critical 4 hours after calving to attend to the cow as well as calf

The first four hours after calving are important and there is a lot of work for the farmworkers as a cow, as well as calf, need attention. After cutting the umbilical cord the calf needs cleaning up especially mucous on nostrils, eyes, and mouth. The farmer should decide whether he wants the calf to be licked by the mother for cleaning or weaning at birth is preferred. Generally, if the cow is allowed to clean the calf, at least in the initial few weeks presence of calf will be required for letting down of milk. The newborn calf should be up on its feet in the next 2 hours. Newborn Calves that are weak will be unthrifty and might need assistance.

Hypothermia is also common in newborn calves, especially during the winter season. Such calves need to be taken in a warm shelter. A quick test to decide if the calf needs to be taken to the warm area is put your finger thorough mouth corner, in case it is not warm, the calf needs sifting and warming up.

Rule 4: Ensure calf feeds on enough colostrum

Colostrum feeding is important for calf survival as, unlike in dogs and humans, when calves are born, they don’t have protective antibodies passed from the mother’s blood. Colostrum is rich in antibodies against all the infections the cow has been exposed to, also contains growth factors, immune cells, and so many vital elements. There is no parallel and substitute for colostrum feeding. The newborn calf must receive the first secretion colostrum within 2-4 hours of birth. Do not feed any other thing, including water. The general rule is calf be fed one-tenth of its body weight, which could be fed in 2-3 servings, the first serving should be 30-50% of the day’s total. Colostrum feeding will provide antibodies as well as nutrients.

Studies have shown that about one-third of colostrum fed is absorbed intact and the rest may be digested and supply nutrients. The calf should be given colostrum secreted on 2nd as well as 3rd day. Feeding of colostrum for 3 days ensures enough central as well as local gut immunity. These newborn calves, when fed a good diet, will remain disease-free and gain weight rapidly.

Two options need to be considered. Allow the calf to suckle colostrum or feed the calf through a tube or bottle. Both have advantages and disadvantages. In the first scenario, the calf should be sufficiently strong to suckle, the cow should have mothering skills to nurse else calf would not receive required quantities of antibodies, growth factors and immune cells. It is also difficult to know the quantity of colostrum calf has been able to suckle. An indirect way to find if a calf has received stomach-full colostrum is to weight the calf after feeding. The difference between weight at birth and weight after feeding will indicate the amount of colostrum consumed. Another way is to monitor the time spent on continuous suckling.

If there is sufficient colostrum flow calf will suckle at a stretch. Studies have shown that Indian cows and buffaloes have a higher quantity of antibodies on a per kg weight basis compared to temperate climate breeds but the exotic breed cows secrete 5-6 times more colostrum than Desi cows. In case the Desi breed cow has not secreted enough colostrum, the calf can be fed on colostrum from other cows including HF and Jersey.

Rule 5: Store excess colostrum, it is precious

Excess colostrum should not be used to prepare cake which destroys most of the precious content. Colostrum stored frozen can be used to feed orphan calves as well as inhuman to treat diarrhea in children and adults. Those who don’t have the facility to store colostrum frozen can store colostrum at room temperature which gets fermented. Studies have shown that feeding of fermented colostrum to newborn calves reduces the incidence of scouring and even with less starter consumption weight gain is higher than when only milk and starter is fed. Fermented colostrum should be diluted 50:50 in water. Excess colostrum can also be sold for converting into powder which is used as biopharmaceuticals and can get additional income to the farmers.

Rule 6: Milk should be fed as per calf need at least 5-6 times in a day

It is a bad practice to feed milk to calves only twice a day, which usually happens when the calves nurse on mothers just after milking. In such cases, calves should be fed milk replacers in addition to suckling. Multi-nipple buckets are available which allow calves feed colostrum as per their requirements. Studies have shown that when calves are fed milk as per their need, the incidence of scouring is low. A note of caution, when newborn calves are fed milk ad-lib their feces will always be more watery which should not be taken as scouring. Scout should be attended to when feces has a lot of mucus, blood and calf is also sick. Watery feces in the otherwise active calf should be taken as something normal.

Rule 7: Early weaning and starting on starter fed is key to rapid growth

Many farmers keep on feeding milk to newborn calves beyond one month of age. This is not a good practice as it compromises growth. Milk, although excellent feed for very young calves contains 85% water hence the availability of nutrients, is less. The calf should be encouraged to start feeding on high protein calf starter from day 14th -21 days onwards and should be weaned from milk as early as possible, but no later than 7 weeks.

Read: Common Practices of Management of Newborn Calf

Dr. Abdul Samad

Ex-Dean and Director, MAFSU, Nagpur