Dr. Alex Bach – Managing & Grouping Calves for Optimal Health Performance

Posted on November 9, 2012 in Starting Strong - Calf Care

Adequately taking care of your calves and heifers today is important because they will be influencing the milking herd’s performance in 2014. It seems as though most farmers don’t spend enough time focusing on the calves and heifers, and spend most of their time dealing with the milk producing cows, said Dr. Alex Bach with IRTA-ICREA in Barcelona, Spain. Bach said that those ways are changing now and it is just as important to monitor the calves and heifers as it is production animals.
Studies show that the rate of growth of young calves is correlated with milk production and that heifers that have a successful transition will calve 10 to 12 days earlier than those that did not. Bach said producers should have four objectives when managing calves and heifers.
“Optimize growth, optimize transition, minimize health problems, and ensure genetic potential,” he said.
When trying to optimize growth, establish an objective of what you want to see out of the calves. Consider the fact that when you are attempting to save money on milk replacer, you actually are losing money because of the future return for the calf.
Optimizing the transition should include what you plan to feed. Bach suggested a “dry TMR, which consists of chopped dry grass hay and grain that can be wet with water if the producer prefers.”
The big question in this period is when to group these animals and how. Bach described a few large trials and concluded that animals grouped at 49 days while being weaned (once a day milk feeding) had higher intakes of those that were grouped at 56 days.
The next objective is minimize health problems. Bach emphasized the importance of not overstocking group pens and described the respiratory issues that result if the animals are overstocked.
“The lungs in a cow are very small compared to their body size and damage to the lungs will cause impairment of their future performance,” he said.
Before actually grouping the animals, Bach said it is important to “group calves based on their history of disease.” In the future, the producer will see that as the number of pneumonia cases increases in these animals, milk production life will decrease.
The last objective that Bach presented was to ensure full genetic potential. “We cannot change the genes, but can change the expression, which happens at conception,” said Bach.
The quality of young animals’ nutrition program will affect them the rest of their lives. Research has shown that the more milk you feed these animals, the better milk-producing cows they will become. Bach concluded that, along with having these four objectives, it is important that the producer continues good management practices before and after weaning.

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