Effective Strategies for Winter Calf Raising

Published on Thu, 11/17/2016 - 2:27pm

By Luciene G. Ribeiro
Director of Sales – West APC, Inc.

As producers have experienced difficult economics this year, I hear many talking about exploring opportunities to maximize their production and be more cost effective.  As we approach the winter season, many question how successful are their calf raising programs.  Raising calves in the winter is always a big challenge, for both the animals and the people who work with them.
Now is a good time to evaluate your program. Identifying areas of success as well as areas that need improvement, and what changes and adjustments need to be made will result in a more successful calf raising program this winter.
1. Evaluate your current protocols from maternity into getting these calves to a good start out in the running pens. Go through them and discuss with your employees beforehand. Everyone needs to understand the job that needs to be done.
2. You should move cows out of the maternity pen as soon as they calve.
3. These cows should be moving into a clean and dry pen area. If you have the time and place to milk those cows right after they calve, do so. If not, make sure they are moved into the milking parlor at the next milking time, so you can collect the colostrum soon after they calve.
4. Make sure ALL buckets and tools that you are using to collect colostrum are cleaned and sanitized. It is extremely important that you keep everything very clean. That also goes for all tools that are used in the maternity area when pulling a calf or treating a cow afterword.
5. If possible, keep your cow colostrum separated from heifer colostrum.
6. There are tools available to measure the levels of solids in your colostrum.  A Colostrometer is the most popular tool, however, many dairies today use the Brix Refractometer which provides a more accurate reading.  Many are available for around $50 and are a good investment.

7. Many large dairies choose to pasteurize colostrum. It is very important to be aware that pasteurization needs to be done properly. If you choose to do it, have the right equipment and train your people so quality is not compromised.  Many people fail pasteurizing their colostrum.
8. If you are calving high numbers of heifers, or your cows/heifers are under a lot of stress due to the weather or other stressors, such a as crowding, consider mixing your colostrum with a colostrum booster, replacer, or supplement.  That will provide higher levels of solids into your colostrum and offer you peace of mind that your calves are getting a good start.
9. If you choose to add anything to your pasteurized colostrum, do it after pasteurizing it – not before.
10. A newborn calf needs to be moved into a dry, clean and warm place soon after birth. If you choose to put this calf into a bed of straw, provide enough straw to cover his shoulders. You can also use a heat lamp on the top of the area to keep these calves warm during cold days.  It is very important that you do not leave these animals in a closed environment for too long. They need to feel warm, but ventilation is very important.
11. The best rule of thumb to feed colostrum is to feed 1 gallon in the first 4 hours, and follow with ½ gallon 12 hours later.
12. Feed good quality of milk, or milk replacer to your calves
13. Keep the milk very consistent, check for solids and add some powder / balancer to supplement your milk when needed.
14. Calves should receive the same amount of solids every day, at the same time of the day, and same temperature, which should be at 102° F
15. Feed more milk during the winter time. Calves need extra energy and can utilize the nutrition for growth and not just for keeping their bodies warm.
16. Water and grain should be offered all the time. During very low temperatures, you are going to need to change water during the day, and dump at evening so it is does not freeze into the bucket. Grain should be fresh – change or add every day.
17. Keep the calves dry all the time. Re-bed as needed. Comfort and sanitation are key components for a successful program.
18. At weaning time, make the transition as smooth as possible. Feed the last week, once a day only, and then leave the calf at the hutch for another week with grain and water only. The transition should be much easier.
19. Finally, it can’t be repeated often enough - sanitation is the key to any successful program. Keep all buckets, bottles and tools clean.
Take a look at all the tools you will need: brushes, bottles, buckets, and bedding. Talk to your nutritionist to assure you are feeding the right amount of solids for the energy requirements into the milk as well into your starter. Also discuss with your veterinarian the vaccination protocol.
Take these steps to prevent problems.  It is more efficient and less expensive to invest in prevention than to treat later. Best of luck into the winter!