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How do we capitalise on pre-weaning growth rates?

Feed conversion rates drop as calves age, so how do we get the most out of young calves? As we expect there is not one straight answer but a multi-factorial approach. Nottingham University have created a tool kit to help farms incrementally up-level their calf husbandry and nutrition, which has shown to have positive effects on reducing incidence of scour, mortality and increasing daily weight gain.


The tool kit outlines around 20 interventions which have been shown to have positive impacts on calf health … more on these later. 45 farms across the UK were recruited in a randomized trial to test the theory that the more interventions a farm uses the better their results would be in relation to calf health and growth weights. Calves were weighed by weigh tape at 2 points between birth and weaning to calculate average daily weight gains and health data were looked at to record the levels of scour, pneumonia and death. Some of these farms were then given interventions to put in place.

Interventions include increasing the frequency of calving pen cleaning, feeding 6-8L per day, or feeding colostrum always within 6h of birth. On average, farms which were encouraged to increase the number interventions started off already doing approximately 7 of these interventions, by the end of the study they were using around 10.

The results showed more interventions reflected in a lower rate of scour, improved growth rates and reduced number of deaths. For example, a farm increasing from 7 to 10 interventions might expect a drop in scour risk from 33 to 25%. This study therefore supports an evidence-based approached calf health plan.



What interventions can we expect to see on the plan?


The interventions chosen in this study were whittled down from 293 potential variables across different farms. In another study, they found these top 20 or so interventions have the biggest impact. Although a lot of them aren’t surprising it is always important that we are implementing changes backed by evidence and research supporting our decisions.


Here are a handful of interventions you can expect to see in the tool kit:

- Feeding colostrum volume of 3-4L

- Cleaning calf pens out at least every 30 days

- Bedding up daily

- Use of heat lamps

- Test blood, colostrum and colostrum bacteriology


The aim is to incrementally increase the number of these key interventions on your farm, if you are currently achieving 6, your goal would be to achieve 8 or 9 in the next few months. To see the plan and find out more visit Herd health toolkit (shinyapps.io) and discuss how best to approach this with your vet.



Robert M Hyde, M. J. G. C. H. P. M. D., 2022 Jan. Improving growth rates in preweaning calves on dairy farms: A randomized controlled trial. Journal of Dairy Science, 105(1), pp. 782-792.




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