Thoughts over the coming fortnight should be turning to the arrival of calves.
The protocol for managing calves upon arrival to the farm will vary depending on a number of circumstance – here are some key considerations that can be adapted for your farm to ease the transition.
1. Clean, dry and bedded trailer
Calves should always be moved in a clean trailer with a good bed of straw in it. A clean trailer is important as these calves are still developing their immune systems and any foreign bugs could cause disease issues if the calf is exposed to them.
A good bed of straw helps keep calves clean and again, acts as a barrier to disease, especially on longer journeys where calves are more likely to lie down during transit.
2. Electrolyte as the first feed
For farmers purchasing calves from marts, or where the journey from one farm to another is greater than one hour, the first feed upon arrival for these calves should be in the form of an electrolyte.
Farm-to-farm moves that are less than 60 minutes tend not to require the feeding of electrolytes as there is minimal disruption to the calf.
Moving from the dairy farm to the rearing farm can be a big ordeal for a young calf. In some instances this involves two trailer trips, a few hours in a mart, mixing with other calves and ending the day with a change of housing environment.
While steps can be, and are taken to reduce stress, it is still important to be aware of the changes the calf encounters at the time of purchase.
Feeding an electrolyte to calves on the first evening on farm will rehydrate the calf and replace fluids lost during transit as well as supply them with energy and minerals. Milk replacer should then be fed from the next morning onward.
Some farms will feed an electrolyte again on the second evening where they feel calves benefit from it – this is usually for calves that have travelled a long distance. By day three milk replacer can be fed both morning and evening.
3. Leave calves 48 hours before vaccination
Some farmers will vaccinate calves upon arrival to the farm with the best interest of the calf at heart. However, it is important to realise that a vaccine will not work on a stressed calf. Therefore, administering it on arrival is likely to be less effective than leaving the calf time to settle into their new surroundings for a 48-hour period before vaccination.
Most vaccines will not provide a high level of immunity for three to four days anyway so the major stress period of moving has passed before the vaccine kicks in.
4. Spend time watching calves
While constant herding is a must in the calf shed, extra effort should be made to watch calves in the first 48-hour period. If you are not in the calf shed, you will definitely not see a sick calf. The more you are there, the more likely you are to identify a calf that needs attention. Carry a thermometer at all times and if in any doubt, check the calf’s temperatures. Anything over 39.5°C should be investigated.