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  • Writer's pictureMatthew Weeman

Caring for the Newborn Calf

-ENVIRONMENT: To help ensure health, calves must be born in a clean and dry environment. This is the most important component of calf health!

• Maintaining a dry and manure free calving pen is the best way to prevent sick calves. Bacteria and viruses are everywhere on the farm. A healthy immune system is what defends animals from disease. AT BIRTH A CALF HAS NO IMMUNE SYSTEM.

-NUTRITION: Feeding calves enough colostrum is critical to building their immune system! Colostrum is essentially a blood transfusion for a newborn calf. The cleanliness, quality of colostrum fed, when it gets fed and the amount fed are important.

• CLEANLINESS: The more time colostrum sits at room temperature the more bacteria there will be. Even if it looks clean colostrum that sits around will be loaded with germs that will make the calf sick. Colostrum with blood or manure in it will grow bacteria even more quickly.

• QUALITY: There are ways to measure this, but, as a practical rule older cows may have higher quality colostrum than young cows. The sooner a cow is milked after calving, the better her colostrum will be.

• TIMING/AMOUNT: All calves should receive 2 quarts of colostrum within 6 hours of birth. Absorption may be better if they nurse the bottle. They should receive at least 2 more quarts within 20 hours of birth. Aggressive calves willing to drink should receive more. DO NOT tube more than 1 bottle in 6 hours.

-DISEASE PREVENTION: There are no vaccines or supplements that will make up for poor management. Calves do not care about excuses. They will not forgive poor colostrum management or late timing. At birth, the first thing that enters a calf’s mouth is the first thing that enters her blood. If it is feces, her blood stream will be immediately filled with bacteria, if it’s colostrum, her blood stream will be filled with life-saving antibodies. She doesn’t care what she ingests first, but those caring for the calf should!

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