Within the I-29 Dairy corridor we have seen an increase in the interest of raising dairy heifers and dairy steers. What follows are some basic pointers about raising dairy calves from pick up at the dairy as bottle calves to weaning. The feeding recommendations are for larger breed calves such as Holstein or Brown Swiss.
As you receive the newborns calves you should check to make sure they have gotten 4 quarts of high quality colostrum within 4 to12 hours of birth. Feed again in 12 hours in order to maximize the chances of obtaining sufficient immunoglobulin’s. Continue feeding colostrum for at least three days. You should also make sure they have had their navels dipped twice and received an agreed upon health program protocols. Agree ahead of time with the dairy that unthrifty calves should not be sent.
Feed calves milk at the rate of 1.25 lbs. per day of 20:20 medicated all milk protein milk replacer for at least 35 days. Make sure when the milk replacer is reconstituted that it is mixed with an adequate amount of high quality warm water. Follow the product label for proper mixing ratios and directions. Then from 36 days til 42 days you can start reducing the milk replacer to 0.625 lbs. /day if the calf is consuming the texturized calf starter and water adequately. Milk replacer can be fed in one or two feedings per day. During extremely cold weather, calves should be fed a minimum of twice a day, increasing the milk or milk replacer fed and delaying weaning by a few days improves health and rates of gain. Provide fresh water to calves daily, especially if they are fed milk only once a day. Calves can also be fed discard whole milk or fermented transitional (preferably pasteurized) milk during the first month or two until their digestive systems are sufficiently developed to utilize grains and forages.
Milk replacers containing all milk products generally are better than those containing vegetable proteins, vegetable oil, or fish proteins. If milk replacers containing non-milk protein sources are going to be fed, it is recommended not to start before 3 weeks of age. After the third week, calves should be able to better digest formulations with non-milk protein sources.
Milk replacers should contain a minimum of (air dry basis) 20% protein, (22 to 24% protein if it contains non-milk proteins such as soy protein or fish meal) and at least 15% fat. Fat sources such as tallow, choice white grease or lard are preferred over vegetable oils, which are poorly utilized by calves. Replacers containing 15 to 20% fat are preferred, especially for calves housed in colder environments. Antibiotic addition to milk replacer consistently improves growth rates and efficiency and usually reduces scouring and respiratory problems.
Calves also can be fed mastitis/antibiotic milk if it appears wholesome and if it is not from a cow with staphylococcal and/or coliform mastitis. If calves are going to be fed discard milk from dairies pasteurization of the milk is recommended.
In addition, to milk or milk replacer, give calves free access to a calf starter grain mixture a few days after birth. Top quality hay should also be offered starting around weaning time. The calf starter should contain a minimum of 18% protein and be palatable to encourage the calf to begin eating at an early age. Additionally, there are now calf starters on the market with 22% protein content on the market available for accelerated growth. Physical form of the starter is also important; coarse and/or pelleted are better than finely ground starters. By two weeks of age the calf should be eating approximately one-half pound of starter. Calves are typically weaned between 6 to 8 weeks of age but they should not be weaned unless they are consuming a minimum of 1.5 lbs. of calf starter and drinking water for at least three consecutive days.
During cold weather, offering lukewarm drinking water 2 to 3 times a day can encourage feed consumption and counteract the effects of cold stress.
Keep calves in an environment that is clean, dry, and free of drafts. Adequate ventilation is important when housing calves indoors. Preferably keep calves in individual pens or stalls during the milk-feeding period in order to minimize spread of disease. Try to house them away from other cows and older animals, as they are highly susceptible to contract disease (e.g. Johne’s) at this early stage in life. Outdoor calf hutches work fine, as long as producers remember to increase their feed intake accordingly to account for their greater maintenance energy requirements during cold weather. Bedding is especially important. There should be plenty of clean, dry bedding. One golden rule when raising baby calves is that it is better to have calves dry, cold and clean than warm, wet, and dirty.
Sanitation of feeding equipment on a daily basis is extremely important, along with sanitation of calf pens between calf rotation to decrease exposure to pathogens and spread of disease.
For a vaccination program, it is recommended to consult with your veterinarian on the latest vaccination protocols and if you are selling the calves back to the dairy, you will also want to consult with them on what vaccination program they follow.