News & Advice

Calf flat? Call the Vet!

Jul 9, 2019 | Dairy, Young Stock

Arnica van der Wiele, Veterinarian, Anexa Vets Ngatea

Investment in your replacement heifers is an investment in your future profit. Calf illness pre-weaning has an impact on production later in life.

Research tells us: 
  • Sick calves pre-weaning produced less in their first lactation. This effect was greater if they were not treated promptly. 
  • Calf illness has an impact on age at first calving. 

Think about the above for a second: you and your staff’s approach to sick calves might have consequences for their performance and therefore your profitability years down the track. Talk about hidden costs!

A comment that we hear regularly as a reason for not getting Veterinary advice is that “it is not worth getting the Vet out for just one calf” or “she is so flat she won’t survive anyway”. Here is the thing: Ill calves dehydrate very quickly which makes them look dramatically sick. You have to act fast for the best chance of a good result. Rehydrate them quickly with a tube feeder and/or call your vet to give her intravenous fluids. It is amazingly satisfying to see how an animal that is flat on her side is up and standing an hour later like nothing has happened.

Another reason to get a Vet out immediately is to assess if there is risk of a disease outbreak. We can get you the right treatment early or put preventative measures in place to stop the problem from spreading. 

Some other pre-weaning facts from recent studies: 
  • Calves should be handled gently, especially in the first four days when socialisation with humans is extra important
  • Pre-weaning calf nutrition has a major effect on future production
  • The first few months of a calf’s life can have lifelong effects on her productivity
  • There is a strong relationship between average daily gain (ADG) pre-weaning and lifetime milk production
  • There is a strong relationship between pre-weaning nutrition and the development of mammary tissue mass
  • Compensatory growth to make up for underfeeding in the first few months is hard if not impossible to achieve.

Invest in your youngest stock and they might pay your investment off faster and quicker. Remember that dairy heifers as a group do not start generating revenue until their second lactation. It is your job to give them the best chance of getting there and nailing that pre-weaning period is a very important part of that.

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