Keys to Healthy Nursery Calves – Ann Hoskins, Vita Plus
Getting calves off to a good start is key to long-term health and performance.
This starts in the maternity pen. It is vital that the calving area is clean, dry, provides ample space for calving, and is comfortable for the cow. For newborn calves – and their immune systems – the goal is to provide the best environment possible. That is one that is free of manure and allows for an easy entrance into the world.
Ideally, remove the calf from the maternity pen as soon as it arrives. Place the calf in a sanitized location where it can be dried. Towel-drying the calf has the same effects as “Mom,” but in a sanitized manner to prevent disease transfer. This will boost the calf’s heart rate and blood flow, which usually helps the calf stand sooner and be more aggressive.
Use a couple bath towels and start at the head and ears. Then move to the chest, then the rest of the body, and finish with the legs. The thick mucus layer should be removed and the hair fluffy.
Next, place the calf in a clean warming area during winter months. This will give the calf a chance to finish drying and maintain body temperature, which will conserve precious energy. A calf has a thermoneutral zone of 55 to 77 degrees F (closer to 77 for a newborn). That means that, for a majority of the year, calves are born outside the thermoneutral zone. Keep calves in warm areas for 8 to 24 hours depending on the setup. Too warm can also be hard on the calf.
The key for warming areas is keeping them very clean. They are always warm and wet – perfect for pathogen growth. If they are not cleaned properly they can become bacteria inoculators for calves, negating all the good you have done. Clean and sanitize warming facilities and allow them to dry between calves.
Once the calf is placed in the warmer, make sure the navel has been dipped with 7-percent tincture iodine solution and colostrum is fed. One gallon of high-quality colostrum and/or colostrum replacer should be fed within 2 hours of birth.
Once the calf is dried, put on a calf jacket and move it to the calf’s permanent residence. Calf jackets should be washed between calves and sized to fit the animal. The calf jacket should remain on calves until they are comfortably eating grain, usually about three weeks. This time of year, calves may need them off a bit sooner. If the calves are warm or “sweating” on a warm day, the jacket should be removed. Moisture under the coat can lead to respiratory challenges in calves.
Keep in mind, calf jackets have a lifespan just like our other equipment. It is no longer effective if it has a bunch of holes or the batting is getting thin.
These are a few key items that will help get your calves off to a super start. For humans, it is easy to start pulling back on winter activities when we feel warm. But think about it from a calf’s perspective. Anything we can do to help conserve energy and prevent disease will result in a much healthier calf and more productive cow.
Starting Strong - Calf Care