Preparing for Spring – Going Back to Basics

Posted on November 3, 2012 in

From Ann Hoskins, Vita Plus Calf Products Coordinator

When winter tosses us a new challenge everyday, it can become difficult just taking care of the basic needs. However, spring can bring its own set of challenges to calf raisers. The warm days, cool nights and lots of moisture in the air can prove to be a challenge for even the healthiest calf. As we gear up for spring, it is time to go back to the basics.
Calf Energy Needs
Temperature swings can be very difficult for young calves. Newborn calves are particularly vulnerable to temperature changes. The newborn calf has a thermoneutral zone that falls between 55 and 77 degrees F. Within this range of temperatures, the animal is not required to dissipate or conserve heat to maintain body temperature. Therefore, when the ambient temperature drops below 55 degrees F, newborn calves need to expend extra energy to maintain body temperature. If these increased energy requirements are not met, calves will lose body weight and have suppressed immune systems.
One way to increase dry matter intake from milk or milk replacer is to feed more of it. The 32 percent increase needed when temperatures drop to 20 degrees F means feeding an 85-pound calf 2.5 quarts twice daily rather than the standard two quarts fed during the fall.
The second choice applies to those farms feeding milk replacer. Increase the amount of powder while keeping the liquid constant. By doing this, we can get higher energy intake at a constant two quarts per feeding. However, do not exceed 15 percent solids in the milk.
Another option is to increase the energy density of the diet with supplemental fat. Supplemental fat products usually contain about 60 percent fat and 7 to 10 percent protein. They are added to milk or milk replacer at 0.25 pounds per calf per day to provide extra energy for maintenance and growth.
Hutch Management
Many hutches do not get washed in the winter months and, in some cases, can even be hard to move off the frozen ground. With the snow and ice melting, it is really important to get those hutches moved and cleaned. Washing the hutches between calves will help to break the disease cycle. After washing the hutches, disinfect it with an acid solution and let the hutch dry before using.
Once the hutch is moved off the pad, clean up the dirty bedding and leave the ground empty for a few days. Sun exposure is important for drying and disinfecting the area before a new calf is put in the clean hutch.
With spring comes the spring thaw and lots of moisture and mud. Providing clean dry bedding is an easy choice for survival tips.
Research has shown calves spend 73 to 81 percent of their time lying down in daylight hours and almost 100 percent at night, if not disturbed, making the resting surface and space crucial for performance. Calves require at least 28 to 32 square feet of resting space with a recommended bedding depth of 3 to 8 inches depending on material, base and weather conditions.
Deciding on a bedding type for calves is very important for many reasons. Consider pathogen exposure, development of air-born bacteria, current outside temperature, cost and drying efficiency. Regardless of the bedding choice, make sure calves are kept dry and clean and have the ability to nest to protect themselves against low temperatures at night.
Dry Feeds
Spring brings moisture, which is very hard on starters and growers. It causes the pellets to expand and become very soft, resulting in fines. It can also cause feed to build up on the edges of the pails and become a bacteria trap.
To counteract the wet days, only feed your calves to their daily intakes. Keep your starters fresh and shake the pails when you feed milk and/or water to prevent the build up of the feed.
Feeding water in the freezing temperatures is sometimes a challenge and other times impossible. Now that the outside temperature is warming, it is time to get water in front of the calves consistently.
Cold temperatures in the Midwest help to break the disease cycle. In order to keep ahead of the bugs, it is important to revisit all cleaning protocols:
  • Rinse the feeding equipment in lukewarm water (around 110 degrees F) to remove any organic matter that may still remain. Avoid using water above 110 degrees F to prevent milk protein from bonding or becoming baked on pails and mixing equipment.
  • Wash equipment thoroughly with soap and disinfectant in hot water (around 150 degrees F).
  • Reach all surfaces with a brush. Replace brushes as they become curled and bent.
  • Rinse with an acid solution.
  • Allow equipment to dry completely before using it for your next feeding.
When raising calves, it really comes down to having good habits as a calf raiser and taking care of the basic needs of calves. Providing the essentials for your calves – nutrients for growth and performance, good bedding, water and proper sanitation – will allow your calves to excel.

Category: Calf and heifer nutrition
Starting Strong - Calf Care