Autumn calving is popular with many farmers as it allows them to grow annual crops and not need to buy feeds, which feels like a good sustainable approach. Following on from calving this season, we've gathered a few of our top tips for calf rearing in Autumn and the lead into winter.
1 Make sure calves are warm and dry, but have space to move. As you prepare calf pens be sure to get down on the ground and feel for cold vents and places where dampness is collecting. Day and night temperature can fluctuate a lot at this time of year so it's important the pens are well sheltered within the calf shed or barn, and that you have heat lamps if needed. Whilst calves are happy being together and will at times sit closely, it is important to have at least two square metres of space per calf within the pen. You should keep your calves covered for at least three weeks after birth.
2 Track and record data from the moment of birth right through weaning and onwards. Each calf must be traced back to its mother and when monitoring feeding and health, as well as weighing and tracking progress, use temporary ear-tags and have the same people looking after the same calves every day. Use a good simple record keeping system whether it is an app, software or a spreadsheet, remember that data is only as good as the person collecting it.
3 Feed well and often. Start with true colostrum and get at least 2 litres into a newborn calf within the first six hours and then average 3-4 litres a day. After a few days as the calf's rumen starts to adjust you can start to introduce milk into the diet but make sure it is hot.
4 Follow a strict and thorough cleaning protocol. Use a quality hand pump like an Ezi-action drum pump
for regularly spraying disinfectants when cleaning. Being able to thoroughly clean the pump and change seals if needed reduces the risk of issues with chemicals mixing or contamination. Be sure to clean all surfaces and items that come into contact with calves. Regularly check bedding and ventilation to avoid effluent gases like ammonia building up.
5 Use adequate pain relief when disbudding young calves and make the process as calm as possible. De-horning is without a doubt the most stressful point in a young cow's life. Consider ear-tagging at the same time as disbudding and use sedatives as well as local anaesthetic.
6 Properly train and support your team. In many cases the calving team might involve your children taking on new responsibilities each year so they need to be clearly shown what to do.
People, processes, quality products, and a little compassion are the keys to effective calf rearing. Hopefully some of these tips have reminded you of ways you can improve your own systems and decisions ready for next calf season.