In New Zealand almost 1.5 million calves are reared every year. Many of those are reared on dairy farms, as replacement heifers, but about 500,000 bull calves are reared for the beef industry, often at specific calf rearing properties, as well as in backyards and on lifestyle blocks.
When you decide to try your hand at rearing some calves there are some very important points to consider, to avoid disappointments.
The first and foremost is hygiene, which will be the focus of this week’s article.
Calves are born without any immunity against disease. They receive antibodies through colostrum, which sets them up for the first period in life but after this the calf’s immune system is on its own. A breach of hygiene is a threat to the calf’s health and can have dire consequences.
I could fill this newspaper writing about the importance of colostrum and its management, however, most calf-rearers have no (or at least not much) say over the first days of a calf’s life so we will focus on the period after arrival on the calf rearing premises.
Good preparation is half of the battle. When you are preparing for the season have a good critical look at the area where you will be rearing the calves, the equipment you use and the daily routine you plan to follow. Then focus on hygiene in each of these areas.
Are the calf pens weather proof and well ventilated? Calves are like new-born babies and need shelter, warmth and clean air to thrive. Are the calf pens clean and disinfected? Many bugs that cause calf diseases, like scours, can survive in the environment for well over a year. The first step to prevent unwanted bugs in your calves is to not expose your calves to them. Make sure the pens are completely mucked out, consider fumigating the area and use a good disinfectant to kill as many pathogens as possible. Then consider how you are going to maintain cleanliness throughout the season. Regular mucking out and cleaning of the pens will be a great start as well as topping up bedding daily/ every other day to keep calves lying on clean bedding.
Next to consider is the equipment you use to feed and water your calves with. It pays to invest in new gear if your current gear has aged a bit as cracks, including the invisible microcracks, in plastic are a great hiding place for bugs. If your current gear is good for another season then it is key to clean, disinfect and where possible sterilise it. It pays to invest in a good disinfectant, like Virkon or Vetsan, as well as some good scrubbers and brushes. For bottles and tube-feeders you could use the cold-sterilising tablets for baby bottles, available at most supermarkets, for a really good clean.
Once you are set up and your calves start arriving the key to success will be to keep vigilant in your hygiene. If you don’t expose you calves to bugs, then their immune system does not have to try and fight these bugs and your calves can focus on growing and becoming nice big, fat, shiny calves bouncing around the paddock: the most satisfying view for any calf rearer.