Care and Management of the Neonatal Calves


Today's calf is tomorrow's cow. Calf care is considered to be one of the most difficult operations at the farm, requiring constant vigilance, managerial skills and applications. For efficient production, new calves are required to replace the old and debilitated ones. Too, often, the future of the herd's production is in jeopardy due to lack of attention, care and management of the young calf. Martin and Wiggins estimated that 20% calf mortality resulted in reduction of 38% profit of a livestock farm. Dechow concluded that herd management system and selection of sire with high productive life evaluations were positively associated with lower mortality.

Care of the Cow During Pregnancy

Calf care starts in the mother's womb, especially in the last 2-3 months of the gestation. This is the period when there is rapid growth of the focus drawing significant amount of nutrients from the mother's system. During this period the mother is in dry period which allows her to rebuild body energy reserves, regenerate milk secretory tissues for future lactation, produce colostrum with high nutritive values besides allowing growth of the fetus in the womb. Unfortunately, feeding of cows during this period is often neglected because she is dry and thus often gets inferior quality feeds and fodders/straws.

Care of the Cow and Calf During Calving

As calving approaches the cow should be transferred to individual calving pens 1-2 weeks before the expected calving date. The calving pen should be clean, well bedded and roomy. The calving area should be well sanitized and sterilized with the disinfectant.

Ample amount of fresh drinking water and laxative feed should be provided to the cow. She should be observed closely as calving time approaches. Assistance should be given only if needed. A period of 12 hours may elapse after the commencement of calving until the calf is dropped. If a change is noticed in the morning and she has not calved mid afternoon, the cow may be examined by veterinarian. Sincerely, if the restlessness first occurs in the afternoon the cow ought to have calf the expected time, she should be examined thoroughly by inserting the arm in the vagina for short and brief period.

If the cervix is closed or partly closed, the cow should be left alone until she shows signs of straining. If the cervix is open with a normal presentation of head and forelegs seen, delay may be safely ignored. In the event of any signs of abnormal presentation the farmer should call the veterinarian immediately. Watch for the expulsion of placenta. The cow should not be allowed to eat the placenta as it will cause indigestion. With the expulsion of placenta, parturition is complete.

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Attending the New Born Calf

Once the calf has arrived, one should ensure that it is respiring. Clear the mucous from the calf's mouth and nostrils or gently slide clean straw or twig up the calf's nose so that sneezing expels the mucus from the respiratory passages. Sometimes holding the calf head down by lifting the hock flows of phlegm. If these fails, the attendant should blow his expired air through the calf's nostrils closing its mouth. Carbon dioxide in the expired air acts with intermittent pressing and releasing of pressure on the chest walls of the calf to give artificial respiration.
Dry calf with a clean towel. In any case weaning is practiced, separate the calf immediately from its dam to calf pen with plenty of dry bedding. Attend the navel of the calf with tincture iodine so as to protect him/her from joint-ill and navel-ill. In case the umbilical cord is not broken, cut it with a pair of clean sterilized scissors and a ligate 4-6 cm away from the body with a sterile thread. Paint the wound with antiseptic lotion to prevent from infection.

Weaning the calves

Separation of calf from mother is called weaning. Under early weaning system the calf is not allowed to suckle milk instead, whole milk, skim milk or milk replace is offered to the calf through bottle feeding. This not only saves milk for human consumption but also ensures clean milk production. Immediately after calving, blindfold the cow and remove the calf. Dry the calf with a clean towel and attend the navel of the calf as mentioned above. Place the calf in a warm clean bedded area and feed colostrum of the body weight.

Feeding Colostrum to the Newborn Calf

Feed colostrum to the calf immediately after birth. A minimum of 10% of body weight should be fed within 6 hours of birth. Colostrum also known as first milk contains high amount of proteins, vitamins and minerals but low lactose than normal milk. It contains large amount of antibodies which provides the calf with an umbrella of immunity against many diseases in early life. Since the intestinal wall of the calf allows these antibodies to pass in the blood stream only for a short period of time after the calf is born it is highly essential to feed the colostrum in the first 15-30 minutes, followed by a second dose 4-6 hrs. In order to ensure that the new born absorbs adequate amount of colostrum, forece feeding must be done.

Teaching the Calf to Drink Milk

The calves are taught to drink milk through bottle with a nipple. The herdsman should dip his clean finger in milk and allow the calf to suckle it. Once the calf trains itself, slowly milk is offered through bottle feeding.

Calf Starters

Calf starters are first dry concentrate mixture fed to calves. In order to train them small quantity of starter is rubbed on the tongue and lips of the calf. A calf starter should be highly palatable. It should be high in energy and DCP. Milk feeding can be discontinued when the calf is consuming 0.4-0.5 kg concentrate per day.  

Feeding of the Good Quality Bay

feeding of good quality bay encourage early rumen development which means that the calf can be fed as a ruminant from an early stage. This will economize calf raising. Calf start nibbling hay and fodder from 5-7 days of life. They should be given soft textured, high quality hay on a in pairs or group in a semi enclosed houses. The calf houses should be well protected from rain and draft. There should be provision for a heater during severe winter month to maintain conductive ambient temperature.

Vaccination Schedule of the Calves

vaccination is given to the calves in order to build up immunity against any infection disease by producing large quantities of antibodies and hence to prevent occurrence of disease in the herd. The vaccines should be bought from a reliable source and the most common vaccines in calves are foot and mouth disease, Vaccination is given as per the prevalence and frequency of the disease.

Calf Housing

In case the calf is weaned early they can be housed per indications.

Deworming Schedule in a Farm

In order to prevent occurrence of worm infestations in young calves and to promote health and welfare of animals, deworming schedule should be practiced as early as the second week of life of the calves. Parasitic diarrhoea is caused by Ascaris vitulorum in calves leading to gastroenteritis and diarrhoea by the adult worms.

Identification of Animals

Proper identifications required to keep the production and reproduction records of each animal. It also helps to claim insurance of animals. Tags or labels are made of light metal or plastic with numbers stamped on them. Tags are generally fixed on ears.

Record Keeping in farm

Purpose of record keeping is for the sound planning and synchronization of all the inputs that helps in successful operation of a dairy farm. It helps to know the performance of individual animals and remove the uneconomical ones so that day to day evaluation, planning, co-ordination and execution in farm be conducted smoothly. Record basic details of the herd-Identity number, name, breed, date of birth, sex of calf, sire number, dam number, age at first calving, body weight, treatment register, health register, death of animal etc.

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the calf is weaned from milk feeding at 3 months of age. During this time the calf should not be neglected by putting entirely on roughage. Some amount of concentrates along with good quality roughage should be provided and after 6 month fodder.

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