By far, most bull calves will never become a lasting benefit to a dairy herd, and as such may not always receive the same level of care that heifer calves do. Harmonizing your calf rearing programs will yield positive results for all calves and your bottom line.
All calves require excellent care, especially in the first few days of life. Without adequate, timely colostrum and proper milk replacer/milk intake, heifer calves will produce less milk later in life, not to mention reduced likelihood of entering the milking herd. That being said, insufficient colostrum and poor nutrition also leads to reduced health and production (carcass yield) for bull calves. Gender plays no role when reaping the future benefits of calf care investments. By ensuring adequate IgG and caloric intakes, the calf will be less prone to illness, development of chronic health problems (e.g. re-occurring pneumonia), require less medications and more likely to meet genetic potential for production. Sick calves take the greatest amount of time out of your day and provide the least profitable return.
There are still incentives to invest the necessary care into bull calves that will be leaving the home farm soon after birth. Buyers notice calf quality, and often receive feedback from bull calf growers regarding their performance. Consistently poor calves from a single source could indicate there are some areas of improvement in the rearing of these bull calves on the home dairy farm. If these bull calves have higher incidences of illness and reduced average daily gains there may be a critical element (e.g. colostrum) missed in early calf care. Additionally, this could point to an area of improvement for on-farm disease control. Observing calves daily can help detect the early signs of illness, pick-up on a potential disease outbreak, and isolate sick calves from healthy calves. Without proper early care, bull calves can fall ill before leaving the farm, making it more challenging to control disease. Following calf care management practices for both the heifer and bull calf will have a greater return on investment on farm and at the sale barn.
Harmonizing calf care will:
- Reduce severity and/or frequency of disease,
- Reduce medication use,
- Reduce time caring for sick calves,
- Greater returns on calf investments,
- Herd reputation for strong calves.
Good bull calf care ultimately leads to upholding the positive image of the Canadian dairy industry.
At a minimum, ALL calves require:
- Colostrum: 100g of IGg within 6 hours of birth,
- 6 liters of quality milk, or milk replacer per day,
- Free choice access to starter from day 1,
- Free choice access to clean water from day 1,
- Housing that is clean, dry, bedded, ventilated, and free from drafts.