Basic Care Guidelines for Dairy Beef Calves

James Grothe – Dairy Beef Specialist

We are getting close to the end of a long, hard winter that has tested all of us in some way. With that being said, I thought it would be beneficial to discuss some basic care recommendations that help maintain healthy calves.

  1. Bed calves for comfort – Calves need help staying warm with good bedding such as small grain straw. Because of the hollow stem and other characteristics of straw, it has better insulation potential for calves than sawdust or corn stalks. A calf that is wet or covered in mud and manure gets cold quicker because the matted hair provides less insulation. Also, when the calf’s bedding is clean and dry, the calf is clean. When dirty, the calf licks itself and ingests the mud and manure on its hair coat; we all know about the resulting health problems that could occur.
  2. Provide clean, fresh water. Water is very critical for growth and the health of calves and steers. As a rule of thumb for calves, it takes four pounds of water for every one pound of feed. Calves consuming 1.25 pounds of Milk Replacer in four quarts of water and one pound of starter is short of water. This will reduce gain and open the possibility of health issues. Water weighs eight pounds per gallon or four quarts; 2.25 pounds with only eight pounds of water instead of nine pounds. Providing clean, fresh water at all times during the cold winter months is difficult, but don’t under or over mix Milk Replacer with water to get more or less water in the calves as this can cause digestive problems. Always mix and feed the Milk Replacer as recommended.
  3. Provide adequate shelter and feeding areas. Calves require adequate shelter from the elements to maintain their performance during inclement weather. Shelters should have good air quality – air high in humidity increases the potential of pneumonia. Wet bedding decreases air quality so it is imperative that calf pens be cleaned and rebedded on a regular schedule. Facility design should allow livestock to be comfortable and easily allow calves to access feed and water. The water and feed should be clean and free of foreign material. Also, it should be readily accessible, which means calves can eat comfortably without having to reach up or down. Locate feeders and waterers so they are not too high or low for animals to find or eat from it. Keep waterers clean of any manure or bedding. Remove any leftover feed daily from the feeding bucket or trough.
  4. Provide the proper nutrition. It is fun because it is easily solved with the Kent Calf Feeding program. A calf has a very low feed intake of 1-2 pounds per day so it is very critical to have all the proper nutrition in a very dense balanced package – Kent calf starters do that. Cost per ton or pound is not as big a concern as to what is in it and the resulting performance.

The list could go on with more, but these are basic, but very critical recommendations for getting the best performance from Kent Feeds’ Calf feeds. Most times, when you focus on basic animal husbandry skills and proper nutrition, you will minimize the health concerns in dairy-beef calves. So, walk your customers’ calf facilities and help them fine-tune their calf management for maximum profits.