The success of the dairy farm relies on the success of the calf management program. Lifetime productivity starts when the calf is born. As a serious farmer, good care of your calves is important as bulls calves can be raised and sold for meat while heifer calves are the future cows and production animals.
- Allow the newly born calf to suckle within the first 24 hours because without colostrums, the calf is malnourished, grows poorly and it’s susceptible to diseases throughout its life.
- After 24 hours the stomach of the calf closes for the antibodies contained in the colostrums and takes up nutrients.
- The colostrums become thinner and more like normal milk after around a week and can be mixed with normal milk.
- Where a bucket is used for feeding, clean it well everyday to avoid infections. Feed the milk immediately after milking that is at body temperatures of 370C.
- At 2-3 weeks of age feed the calf with 5litres of milk per day.
- At 3 weeks of age, provide good quality hay and fresh forage to calves, for rumen development.
- At 4-7 weeks of age feed the calves with 6 litres of milk/calf/day (late weaning) or 4 liters/day/calf plus 0.25-0.75 weaning pellets (early weaning). If you feed calves on feed replacers, then strictly follow manufactures instructions.
- Always allow the calves to have unlimited access to clean water and minerals and shelter them in a clean dry environment.
This is separating the calf from the mother to enable the dam return on heat. Recommended at 3-4months depending on weather conditions and feed availability.
Wean calves 12 weeks for early weaning or at 16 week for late weaning. Calves to be weaned should have increased its weight by 21/2 times the birth weight e.g. if a calf was born with 35kg live weight then it will be weaned with 90kg live weight.
During weaning, gradually reduce the liquid diet over a period of 10days and by the end of weaning period feed the calves on one liquid meal per day.
- The house should protect the calves from cold, rain and too hot sun especially when young.
- Keep the house very clean free from ticks and fleas. Spray the calf pen with gentle insecticides especially pyrethrum (dudukrin) since their skins are very delicate to the ones used on adult animals.
- The calf pen should be 1.5m long by 1.2m wide with slatted floor and around 0.6m high from the ground. This applies to permanent calf pens with slatted floor. For permanent pen with cemented floor, slope the floor for free drainage. Always provide bedding to the calves (dry straw).
- Provide a bucket of water, feed in feed trough and salt lick in the calf pen and ensure that the calf pen is well ventilated. Always disinfect the calf pen before stocking.
Calf management practices
- Disbudding: disbud 2-3 months of age by use of caustic potash stick or disbudding iron.
- Removal of extra teats: if the calf is born with extra teats (more than 4). These are surgically excised and Limoxin aerosol spray applied to prevent infection.. Do this 2-3weeks of age.
- Castration: done at the first week by applying castration rubber to the calf bulls which are not intended for breeding to control inbreeding within the herd.
- Identification: Carry out identification method by use of ear tags or ear notches. This is done immediately after birth for recording purposes.
- Deworming: Deworm calves as soon as they start grazing and there after every 3 months.
- Disease control: carry out spraying and dipping with the correct acaricides to control ticks and other external parasites. This prevents transmission of diseases in animals.
- Vaccination: Vaccinate calves against brucellosis (3-8months of age), anthrax and blackquarter (at 6 months of age).
Common calf management challenges
Cause: poor nutrition and feeding (dirty milk, dirty buckets, overfeeding)
Sign: whitish diarrhea, loss of appetite, high temperatures and dehydration.
Control: reduce or withdraw milk for 2-3 meals and if this does not work then replace milk with warm water mixed with ½ tablespoon of baking powder plus 2 tablespoon common salt and 110g of glucose. All these mixed with 4.5ltrs of warm water. Sulphumidine tablets are also available in chemist and use as instructed.
Cause: the disease occurs if the calf is exposed to chilly conditions or poor ventilation.
Sign: coughing, watery discharge from nose and eyes, shallow or rapid breathing, loss of appetite and high temperatures.
Control: house calves for the first 6 weeks, avoid draught (cold) and treat with suitable drugs.
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