What are the best practices for calf feeding?

The smooth running of the calf unit and its feed is essential for a heifer to become a sustainable and productive dairy cow. For an improved calf diet, Celtilait advises its breeders on several best practices to be implemented from birth to weaning. The table below summarises this advice and the crucial consequences of poor management.

PracticePrinciple of applicationConsequences if the practice is not applied correctly
Colostrum2 litres within 4 hours of the calf being born
+ 2 litres within 12 hours
Low immunity and risk of health problems (diarrhoea, breathing difficulties)
Quantity of powderUse scales to regularly check the dosing rules: each milk has its own densityIf not enough powder: weak growth for the calf
If too much powder: risk of diarrhoea
Water temperature55°C (minimum 45°C) in the mixing container
Add +5°C in winter
Risk of indigestion and diarrhoea
Meal temperature40°C in the bucket (minimum 38°C)Risk of indigestion and diarrhoea
Meal volumeFollow the feeding programmeIf the volume is too large: the milk goes into the rumen and ferments: risk of swelling
Meal timesThere must be 12 hours on average between 2 meals to empty the abomasumRisk of diarrhoea or bloating
Water management (supply for the calf)Access to water should be prevented during half an hour after the mealVolume too great in the abomasum: poorly digested milk and risk of swelling
Water + Straw + Dry feedProvided freely after the end of the first weekIf there is no water available, the calf will not eat
If there is no dry feed: no rumination and loss of growth in the 2nd month
Water qualityDrinking waterRisk of digestive problems, diarrhoea
HealthIdeally: keep the calf in an individual hutch for 2 to 3 weeks, then in a collective pen
Calves of different ages should not be allowed to mix, and keep the calves far from the adults
The operation of the calf's immune system is at least between the 2nd and 5th week: high risk of contamination (bacteria, viruses, parasites)
Nursery ventilationDraft-free environment
Prevent damp heat or cold
Risk of breathing problems
Calf body temperatureOn average: between 38.5 and 39.5°C
If >39.5°C: fever  antibiotic treatment possible
Beware of the incorrect use of antibiotics – when in doubt, ask your veterinary surgeon for advice
WeaningWeaning must be done when the animal can successfully cover its energy requirements with dry feed.If weaned too early: the calf remains fragile and too thin for a period
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