Farm Profit Programme: calving the cow part three – calf revival and colostrum
In the final part of the series, we look at getting the calf going after calving, calf revival, the correct time to intervene, jacking the calf and dealing with mal-presentations.

In parts one and two, we focused on getting the calf on the ground successfully. However, this is only the first part of the story.

Attention now turns to getting that calf up and running to maximise its chances of survival as well as looking after the cow if she has been handled at calving.

Reviving the calf

Once the calf is on the ground, the first thing you should do is clear all mucus from the nose and mouth. This can be made easier by putting water in the calf’s ear or straw up the nose to encourage it to shake its head.

Try to stimulate breathing by lightly rubbing the chest area. Getting the calf into a natural sitting position will help the lungs to open up and get the calf breathing more normally.

Hanging the calf to clear the lungs is not always the best approach. While you may see a clear liquid come out of the calves' mouth, this is most typically coming from the stomach, not the lungs. Where the calf is hung up to clear the lungs, it is important that it is only done for a short period of time as all the weight of the calf’s gut will be pressing on the lungs and inhibiting its ability to breath.

Hygiene for the calf

While straw costs are inflated greatly on farms this spring, the calving shed is not the place to skimp on bedding.

Calving into an environment that is as clean as possible will dramatically reduce the amount of disease and infection encountered by both the newborn calf and its mother.

Treating navels should also be done on all newborn calves. At birth, the navel has not formed a boundary to the outside environment and so is an open source for disease to enter the calf. This is why a clean environment is critical for the newborn calf.

Navel dipping, rather than spraying, is better at covering all sides of the navel. However, make sure whatever you are dipping navels with, that the dip itself is clean.

Colostrum, colostrum, colostrum

No amount of hygiene, navel dipping or scour vaccines will compensate for poor quality or low quantity of colostrum for a newborn calf. This was a point that Andrew could not stress enough – the importance of getting sufficient levels of quality colostrum into a calf in the first few hours of life is essential for calf survival.

Colostrum provides antibodies to the calf for all the diseases that the cow has been exposed to on your farm. This will be the only immunity the calf will have for the first few weeks of life.

Unfortunately, the calf’s stomach can only absorb these antibodies in the first few hours of life. Even at six hours old, the calf’s ability to absorb antibodies from colostrum is greatly reduced. This is why it is so important to get the calf to feed as soon as possible after calving.

While a generally accepted level of colostrum in the first feed is 3l, Andrew says this will very much depend on the size of the calf. Smaller calves or twins will not be able to take such a large volume, especially in one feed. A more accurate way to calculate the correct feed level is 8% of birth weight, ie 3l for a 38kg calf, 3.6l for a 45kg calf and 4l for a 50kg calf.

Colostrum quality can be improved by feeding a high-protein diet in the final few weeks of pregnancy. Feeding a low level of true protein, such as soya bean meal to cows will boost colostrum quality and quantity.

Care for the cow post-calving

If we need to handle a cow during calving, it should always be done with clean, disposable, calving gloves on.

There is a much greater risk to infection for the cow when farmers are not wearing gloves. Where the cow is handled a number of times and assisted with calving, you need to think about antibiotic treatment. Speak to your vet if you are in any doubt.

Price cuts and oversupply hit milk sector
Graham’s The Family Dairy was with a 10% increase in milk supply; and First Milk cut price paid in June.

Falling prices and increased volumes are challenging the dairy sector. First Milk has cut its price to producers due to “downward pressure on dairy markets”, and UK production has been hitting a 20-year high every month this year. Meanwhile, Graham’s The Family Dairy has struggled to cope.

“Our milk production was up by 10% this year, compared with last year. This is a real challenge for us as an independent family dairy business, as milk volumes must be in line with our customers’ needs,” said Robert Graham, managing director.

“We are having positive conversations with our dairy partners and colleagues to address these ongoing challenges, working together on the best way to understand what the milk supply needs to be, and deliver on it.”

As processing capacity is outstripped by supply, excess milk will be put on the market, having a downward effect on prices. Average UK price is 29p/l, slightly above the five-year average of 27.5p/l.

The UK milk future projections are also indicating an encouraging upward trend

First Milk has announced that its price will reduce by 0.3p/l from 1 June to 27.45p/l for liquid milk and 28.37p/l for manufacturing milk.

Jim Baird, First Milk vice-chair and farmer director, said: “Unfortunately, we now need to make this adjustment in light of the downward pressure on UK dairy markets. Looking forward, global dairy markets are looking more positive and, with peak largely behind us, the UK milk future projections are also indicating an encouraging upward trend.”

Market for dairy calves

Finding a market for male dairy calves was the subject of conversation at the Exiles dairy discussion group meeting in Dumfries last Tuesday.

Up until now, the only real market for these low beef-merit Holstein Friesian and Jersey-cross calves was for pet food production

The discussion group – primarily made up of spring-calving, grass-based dairy farmers in southwest Scotland and northwest England, are trying to find alternatives to slaughter for male dairy-bred calves.

Up until now, the only real market for these low beef-merit Holstein Friesian and Jersey-cross calves was for pet food production. But milk buyers, responding to concerns from the public, are beginning to enforce rules around minimum age for slaughter.

The dairy farmers say that finding an alternative market for these calves is difficult and that an industry-wide initiative needs to be put in place to reduce the number of low beef-merit calves, but also to find a market for beef calves from the dairy herd.

One farmer said it cost him £12/head to transport three-week-old Hereford-cross calves from his dairy herd near Dumfries to a market at Carlisle, only for the calves to make an average of £28 in the ring – below the cost of feed and transport.

Scottish beef and lamb markets experience a dip in price
Farmers Journal Scotland editor John Sleigh has his take on the week's lamb and beef sectors.

Cattle prices slipped a little this week as abattoirs took advantage of decent supply, with prices paid closer to £3.60/kg compared with £3.65/kg last week for an R4L steer.

The official AHDB reported price dropped 1p/kg to £3.67/kg for an R4L steer.

This maintained a premium over the northern English price of 9p/kg for the same grade cattle.

Heifers are reported by the AHDB as a good trade at £3.70/kg for an R4L.

Deadweight cow prices rose 5p/kg to £2.73/kg for an O-4L carcase, which is 8p/kg more than northern England.

Lamb market

The live market for lambs tumbled by 19p/kg to £1.88/kg for medium-weight lambs.

Heavier lambs also fell by 18p/kg to £1.76/kg live weight.

Numbers of old-season lambs sold through the live ring fell back again as the season is drawing to a close, with 1,300 fewer lambs sold, with 8,941 head through the live ring.

Meanwhile, 5,211 store lambs were sold through Scottish marts, with a big sale at United Auctions.

The AHDB is reporting a UK price of £5.04/kg for an R3L carcase, with a kill of over 16,000, which is up 7,000/head.

Numbers of new-season lambs sold through the live ring rose again by 700 head to 1,565 lambs.

Ayr, Lanark, St Boswells, UA Stirling and Thainstone marts sold over 100 new lambs each.

The average price for medium-weight lambs was £2.28/kg liveweight. Cast ewes through the ring fell nearly 1,000 head on the week to 2,668 head, as the average price dropped £5/head to £63/head.

Beef wobble worry
Farmers Journal Scotland editor John Sleigh has his take on the week's big news.

It’s worrying that a few abattoirs cut their beef price this week to just over £3.60/kg for an R4L steer. It would seem increased beef supply and weak consumption are allowing processors to claw the price back a couple pence.

Retail sales have been struggling, sliding by around 4% on the year

After a sharp fall in supply from mid-March to April, we have seen a recovery in the last three weeks. While our beef kill is unchanged on the year, when you factor in a higher average carcase weight there is 0.6% more volume on the market.

Meanwhile, retail sales have been struggling, sliding by around 4% on the year, with roasts taking a significant hit.

The good news is the current supply peak usually finishes just after the Highland Show, and barbecue season should kick in soon, helping to increase consumer demand.

No cars at future shows

Having no cars at the Highland Show was one of the recommendations by a transport expert to chief executive officer Alan Laidlaw.

Alan found it hard to imagine how thousands of farmers could descend on Ingliston without using motor vehicles.

But future planners are serious about the combustion engine’s demise, and felt that not much parking will be needed for the double centenary year in 2040.

If this comes to bare, then we better widen doors on the trains from Mallaig if we want a Highland cattle class.