Calf rearing

“A healthy start for a better milk production”

A calf needs good colostrum supply, attention to hygiene and housing. Add the best nutrition and you have the ingredients to successfully rear a dairy cow.  Everything has to be right from the beginning to rear a dairy cow!

To support farmers in the best way, Nutrifeed developed informative video’s and a protocol about important topics around calf rearing. They contribute to the essential development of calves which grow into highly productive dairy cows.

Calf rearing
Kringloop voedingswensen kalveren

Points of attention by calf rearing

To support farmers in the best way, Nutrifeed developed informative video’s and a protocol about important topics around calf rearing.

These topics are categorized into:

  1. Colostrum
  2. Calf milk replacer
  3. Hygiene
  4. Housing

They contribute to the essential development of calves which grow into highly productive dairy cows.

1. Colostrum managementIcon colostrum feeding

A new-born calf is vulnerable. It has no natural antibodies and during the first few weeks the calf’s own immune system is still insufficiently developed to fight off infection in the intestine (diarrhea) or lungs (pneumonia). For that reason it is essential that calves be fed colostrum as quickly as possible following birth.

What makes colostrum unique?

Colostrum contains high concentrations of antibodies in the form of immunoglobulins, abbreviated to IgG that protect the calf. But the antibodies are not the only elements that make colostrum a unique product; colostrum also contains other ‘life-critical substances’: white blood cells, growth hormones, vitamins, minerals, protein and energy. All of these ingredients help keep the calf happy and growing fast, also on day two and three following birth.

For more tips, information and video’s about colostrum management, go to our  colostrum page.

Calf drinking colostrum

2. Calf milk replacerBag of calf milk replacer icon

After calves received a sufficient colostrum intake they will switch to milk. There are two types of milk that can be fed to the calves, full-fat milk and powdered milk (a calf milk replacer). More than 75% of the livestock farmers in the Netherlands use calf milk replacers.

Why do farmers use calf milk replacers?

A calf milk replacer has a number of advantages as compared with full-fat milk. What are these advantages?:

  • Constant composition and quality
  • Composition that is adapted to a calf’s needs
    • Sufficient vitamins and minerals
  • No vertical transmission of diseases
  • Stimulates solid feed intake
  • Addition of health promoting additives
  • Ease of use

Johan Verdaasdonk, young stock specialist for Kalvolac about the advantages of calf milk replacers.

How do you prepare a calf milk replacer in the right way?

When using a calf milk replacer it is essential that the milk is prepared int the correct manner, in terms of temperature and consistency. A task that is of great importance in rearing healthy young stock and on most dairy farms executed a few times per day.

Watch the video of Johan Verdaasdonk, young stock specialist for Kalvolac explaining where to focus on when preparing a calf milk replacer.

Step by step explains our young stock specialist Johan Verdaasdonk how to prepare calf milk replacer in the right way.

Rumen development, because a calf becomes a ruminant.

It is important to feed concentrates during the milk period and after the milk period. When feeding concentrates and roughage stimulate the development of the rumen papillae. It is important that it is palatable, contains enough nutrients and also that the calves get used to the taste, smell and structure at an early stage. But above all, the intake of proteins, fats and all other important nutrients need to be sufficient.

Watch the video of Coco Bruyère, young stock specialist for Kalvolac explaining why and when feeding concentrate and roughage are so important. In addition, she shows examples which kind of solid feed you can use and why these are suitable to contribute to well growing healthy calves.

For more tips, information and video’s about calf milk replacers, please  contact us.

Coco Bruyère, young stock specialist for Kalvolac explaining why and when feeding concentrate and roughage are so important.

3. Hygiene in calf rearingHygiene icon

Just like ourselves, calves are constantly surrounded by microorganisms. However, only a few of those microorganisms are truly pathogens and therefore capable of causing disease. Good hygiene makes all the difference at your farm. But how does it work?

  • Essential is to implement preventive measures in order to reduce the risk of transmission of infectious diseases. At a farm, it is very important to assess what the weak points for transmission of infectious diseases are, and how to prevent transmission as much as possible.
  • It starts at the immediate birth of the calf. As you know, calves are born without an innate immune system, which means that calves are very vulnerable. Hygiene plays an important role in keeping the infection pressure as low as possible. In this way the calf can use all his energy for growing instead of fighting pathogens.
  • The calving pen and the mother cow are by nature a source of infections. Therefore it is important to keep the calving pen clean, dry and very important, not overcrowded. By directly disinfecting the navel after birth you prevent microorganism form invading.
  • When the calf is transported to the individual housing, make sure that the housing is cleaned, disinfected and has been empty for at least one week to make sure that no pathogens has survived. Moreover, other and older calves can also be a source of transmission of pathogens. Therefore, it is important to individually house the new born calf for the first two weeks of life, and prevent contact of older calves with the younger calves as much as possible. Make sure that when working with the calves, you wear clean coveralls and boots and that you visit the youngest calves first before going to the older calves.
  • Feeding material (whether milk is fed with the bucket or feeding automate), must be cleaned on a daily basis. Buckets must be cleaned properly, and stored upside down to let them dry well. Microorganisms do not grow in dry environment. Do not forget to make sure the feed and water itself is clean as well.
  • When a calf gets sick, separate this calf from the healthy calves, so it cannot infect the other calves.

By working in a structured way and keeping everything neat and tidy, the risk of transmission will be controlled. Which in the end will contribute to healthy and well growing calves.

calf in straw

Prevention is better than cure

In the broadest sense of the word, hygiene refers to preventive measures, on the one hand aimed at preventing diseases and on the other hand at maintaining animal welfare and fitness at the required level. These preventive measures are carried out on our farm, on the basis of protocols.

A protocol-based approach means that everyone works in the same way, thereby reducing the risk of contamination to the minimum possible. After all, surely prevention is better than cure?

For more tips and information about hygiene in calf rearing, please contact us

4. HousingHousing icon

The first fourteen days in the life of a calf are crucial for the animal’s health, and for its future development. Accommodation has a huge influence. The calf deserves a clean, dry and warm environment. In a clean cubicle, with a thick layer of straw.

There are many aspects playing a role. We have selected the most commonly tips that have to do with housing calves.

Tips for calf accommodation

The accommodation of your young stock is of vital importance. There is plenty to take into account. 

  • Make sure there is sufficient straw. Only use clean and dry straw. Muck out the straw compartments regularly. This avoids the straw overheating, which can result in major temperature fluctuations.
  • Is your straw compartment large? Make sure there is a sheltered area where young calves can lie. For example create a ‘ceiling’ by placing bales of straw on beams which are then installed on the dividing walls in the straw compartments. The result is a sort of ‘hut’ that will prevent your calves cooling down and draught and cold air descending from above.  
  • Do not place calves with a large age difference together (a maximum age difference of two weeks). The natural resistance of young animals is still underdeveloped, so older animals can spread diseases.  
Tips for hygiene by calves

It is essential that you first (thoroughly) clean the calf cubicle before disinfecting them (among others for crypto) to reduce the infection load and the risk of disease.

  • Leaving the cubicle empty and sunlight are valuable additional tools. Outside air and sunlight also have a disinfecting effect.

And what about hygiene in the calving pen? If a new-born calf ends up with its nose in a pile of dung, you can clean and disinfect as much as you like, but it will have started off with a disadvantage in terms of health.

Tips for preventing draughts by calves

Draughts in the cattle shed are the biggest threat to the health of your calves. 

  • Using windbreak mesh, create a large hut in the calf pens. The result is a sort of igloo that prevents draughts affecting the pen. 
  • Prevent acute air displacement! Regularly test with smoke to determine the volume of air displacement. If there is too much air movement, install windbreak mesh. 
Tips for temperature by calves

Young life benefits from warmth. It is therefore of life-saving importance that young calves be kept at the right temperature. 

  • Place a towel covered by a blanket on the back of a wet new-born calf. After an hour, the towel can easily be removed from under the blanket. The moisture will have drawn into the towel, and the calf will be dry, beneath a dry blanket. Keep the calf extra warm for the first two weeks in this way. 
  • You can shave the back of older calves. This helps prevent sweating. 
  • Avoid the temperature in the cattle shed falling too low; keep a close eye on your calves, and in case of doubt never think ‘I’ll wait and see’: immediately check the calf’s temperature and if necessary take measures.  
Different housing situations

Watch the video of Johan Verdaasdonk, young stock specialist for Kalvolac about different housing situations of calves.

For more tips and information about best housing practices, please contact us

Young cattle specialist Johan Verdaasdonk of Kalvolac explains the different housing situations of calves.

Farmer hay housing calves