As the beef and dairy industries get more competitive, farmers are finding it harder to maintain existing margins, let alone improving on them.
However, there are measures you can take, even as soon as calving, to greatly improve your calves performance.
Here are 5 ways that good calf management can help maximise your margins:
1: Early weaning
There is a lot to be said for encouraging calves to eat some concentrates and hay/straw fairly early.
If you get in early enough, it will help encourage the growth of the rumen, reticulum and omasum, essential parts of the digestive system.
This is especially important because the rumen achieves 65% of its overall growth in the first 10 weeks.
Good rumen development is achieved by concentrate feeding from starchy food sources like cereals.
If a calf becomes less dependent on milk early and makes the move to solid foods, risk of scours is reduced, calves can be weaned earlier, and labour and rearing costs are lowered.
Introducing dry food early helps develop the calf’s digestive system. It is best to use high quality feed at this point, and while you might take a hit in the pocket for it now, you’ll reap the benefits later.
2: Well planned feeding
Keeping a thin cow in with fat cows during gestation is a bad idea.
Because the fat cows are physically bigger, they have more strength to push the smaller cows away at feeding time.
This leads to thin cows taking on less nutrients at a crucial time in calf development.
The final three months of gestation most of the nutrients a cow takes on are being diverted to the calf.
So if the thin cow is not moved, and moved early, the calf could be weak. And a weak calf is more susceptible to Bovine Respiratory Disease (BRD).
If they succumb to that, the effects can be felt all the way up to slaughter.
3: Ensuring colostrum is taken
Taking colostrum, and enough of it, in the first hours of a calf’s live are crucial to how they develop.
Because a calf has a very poor immune system at birth, it relies heavily on the antibodies from a cow’s first milk to defend it from diseases.
The chances of your calf getting scours, pneumonia and BRD are vastly reduced when enough good quality colostrum is taken.
Calves are prone to catching pneumonia, a major fall out of BRD. If a suckler calf gets pneumonia, over time it can reduce average daily live weight gains by up to 0.2 kg/day.
Some estimate that the lost lifetime growth potential from pneumonia-induced lung damage is as high as 74kg-a-year.
Not only are you losing money at the mart, but add vet fees and a medicine fees and you’re paying out elsewhere too.
In dairy cattle, a heifer’s first lactation will be 4% smaller, and their second will be 8% smaller if she has ever suffered from pneumonia according to Farmers Weekly.
4: Grouping by age
Because younger calves have very poor immune systems, they’re more susceptible to diseases than older calves.
For this reason they should be segregated by age, especially if the newborn calves are stressed by calving, sickness or weaning.
This helps to prevent the passage of infectious agents from the hardier older calves to newborns, so less chance of pneumonia and scours.
5: Reduce mortality
This one is obvious, but if you follow the rest of the methods here, your calf will have a good chance of making it. Good protocol and methods on the farm make can vastly reduce calf mortality and morbidity.