No matter how long you’ve been raising calves, it’s important to help build a solid foundation for each newborn calf.
“There are four essential elements of newborn calf care that have equal bearing on health and productivity,” says Olson, technical services veterinarian for Milk Products. “Managing these four pillars with careful consistency will help set calves up for future productivity – whether that future is in the milking parlor or the feedlot.”
“A calf’s entry into the world can have a tremendous influence on the rest of its life,” says Olson.
“Research has shown the importance of calves being able to sit upright and rest on their sternum within 15 minutes of birth,” says Olson. “If calves are not able to sit up, they will likely need additional care. Discuss with your veterinarian how you can prepare to assist these types of high-risk calves.”
The importance of delivering critical antibodies to a newborn calf – which only can be achieved by feeding colostrum or a high-quality colostrum replacer like Ultra Start® 150 – cannot be overlooked.
“Unlike some species, including humans, cattle do not pass on maternal immunity in-utero,” says Olson. “A newborn calf needs to achieve early immunity through successful passive transfer. The only way they can acquire it is via colostrum.”
There is extensive literature discussing the many aspects of colostrum, but Olson’s “high points” are:
A fundamentally sound diet can be achieved through several strategies, which Olson advises setting with a nutrition professional.
“Nutrition program goals should focus on the needs of the newborn calf, combined with the needs of your farm,” says Olson. “For example, heifer calves should be fed to reach breeding maturity at a target age. Bull calves, on the other hand, may be fed with a goal of transitioning to dry feed as quickly as possible.”
Whether you house your calves in hutches, group housing or individual pens, a well-managed newborn calf is clean, dry, comfortable and has clean air to breathe.
“It’s important to remember the physical housing structure is just a part of a newborn calf’s total environment,” says Olson.
Bedding choice and management: Clean and fluffy bedding allows the calf to nest. Try to use bedding without a lot of dust and keep calves away from wet bedding.
Ventilation and air quality: As seasons change, it’s important to remember calf ventilation needs to also change. In winter, air should exchange four times an hour and in summer 40 times an hour.
Sanitation: Everything from pen dividers to feeding equipment should be cleaned. Talk to your advisors about developing a sanitation program.
Cold weather adjustments: Calf jackets can be very beneficial in cold climates
“Careful attention to each of these pillars will help you build a solid foundation for newborn calves,” says Olson. “If one of the pillars are broken, the entire foundation can collapse.”
For example, a newborn calf without adequate colostrum will likely face health challenges that no amount of nutrition can fix. Likewise, a perfect ration can be compromised if it is fed using dirty equipment.
“The farms that I see doing all four of these things successfully, are those that write and regularly review protocols,” said Olson. “That way everyone knows what to do and how to do it, every day. The result is a very solid foundation for every one of their calves.”
Consult your veterinarian, nutritionist or colostrum replacer supplier to learn more about timely and effective colostrum delivery.
 Dairy Calf and Heifer Association Gold Standards. 2016.