Ask the Expert: Body Condition Scoring of Calves

Posted on November 9, 2012 in Starting Strong - Calf Care
Dr. Neil Michael comes to Starting Strong with nearly 30 years of experience as a veterinarian specializing in dairy. He currently works as the director of dairy initiatives for Vita Plus.
Q: How do I know that my calves are getting enough energy during cold weather conditions to maintain and gain body weight?
A: One of the best methods to ensure your young calves are maintaining a positive energy status during temperatures below 59 degrees F is body condition scoring.
Unlike body condition scoring in adult animals, which is done primarily by visual observation, calves must be scored by actually palpating (feeling) the condition of the calf over the ribs, spine and pelvic area. If calves at two and four weeks do not have equal or better condition than present on newborn calves, changes should be made.
In addition to routine body condition scoring, weighing calves at three and five weeks of age assures that all components of a calf program are working properly. On-farm scales can be purchased for less than $1,000 or rented for routine checks two to three times per year.
Additional critical influencers to ensure positive energy status in young calves include the following:
  • Energy intakes: Intakes must be increased during cooler temperatures by adjusting milk volume, replacer amount, replacer type, or addition of a high fat supplement to milk or milk replacer.
  • Environment of the calf: Keeping calves well bedded and off concrete will avoid extra energy loss to the bedding surface. Additionally, making sure bedding is dry will prevent energy loss from wet hair coats.
  • Calf blankets: Calf blankets can be used in calves less than one-month-old when temperatures fall below 40 degrees F. Make sure that calves do not sweat during the day, resulting in calves becoming chilled during cooler evening temperatures.
  • Starter: Early intake of calf starter significantly increases energy status in young calves and ensures positive energy status during the winter months. Note that access to water is critical for calves to begin consuming starter early in life.
  • Water temperature: Warm water is preferred for young calves to prevent spending additional energy to warm cold water back up to body temperatures.

Category: Calf and heifer nutrition
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