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Five Tips for Spring Calf Care on the Dairy

University of Minnesota Extension, Stearns County News
May 10, 2017        
Source:  Emily Wilmes, Extension Educator-Livestock
University of Minnesota Extension
Stearns, Benton & Morrison Counties

Five Tips for Spring Calf Care on the Dairy
By Emily Wilmes, University of Minnesota Extension

ST. CLOUD, Minn. (5/10/2017) — Spring has finally sprung!  The snow is gone, the temperatures are warming up, and it’s time for dairy farmers to transition their management from cold and snowy to warm and wet.  Spring is a busy time for farmers, and there are so many things to stay on top of, but don’t forget about your calves!  Here are 5 tips to keep your calves healthy this spring.

Tip 1: Keep bedding clean and dry.  While we can’t stop rain, we should be doing what we can to stop its adverse effects on dairy calves.  Make sure you are keeping bedding dry and clean.  Pay special attention to hutches on dirt and calves in group housing.  Moist, dirty conditions are ideal for many bacteria, so keeping things clean and dry can help prevent disease. 

Tip 2: Keep your equipment clean.  Besides keeping calves’ bedding clean and dry, it’s important to think about keeping the equipment you use to feed them clean as well.  Pay close attention to thoroughly cleaning feeding equipment, such as bottles, buckets, nipples, and feeding tubes.  If they are not cleaned, or not cleaned well, biofilm can form on them.  Biofilms are home to bacteria, and once formed, they are harder to clean off. 

Tip 3: Use colostrum best practices.  Because it’s warmer, colostrum for storage needs to be cooled faster.  The goal is to chill the colostrum to at least 60 degrees within 30 minutes of collection from the cow.  Pre-chilling in an ice bath and then refrigerating or freezing slows down the multiplication rate for bacteria. The goal is to feed clean colostrum.

Tip 4: Make sure your calves are getting enough to eat.  As temperatures remain below 60 degrees at night, calves are still requiring a higher amount of energy to maintain a body temperature of 102 degrees.  In winter, we use the general rule of increasing feed 1% for each degree below 60.  So if it’s 50 degrees, you should be feeding 10% more milk or milk replacer.  Calves still need that extra nutritional push to get them fully out of winter and into summer. 

Tip 5: make sure you’re feeding enough coccidiostat.  Spring weather can be extremely stressful on animals, and the stress can cause immunosuppression.  The coccidiostat level that is usually fed would normally control coccidia growth, but when calves are under extra stress the coccidia can quickly overwhelm the medication.  Consider adding a coccidiostat during the spring, or increasing the amount if you already use it.  Coccidiostats do not require a VFD.

Spring, like each season, bring its own challenges when it comes to dairy farming.  For your calves, make sure you are keeping bedding clean and dry, cleaning feeding equipment, ensuring colostrum is cooled quickly, feeding 1% more feed for every degree below 60, and using or increasing use of a coccidiostat.


Emily Wilmes
Extension Educator, Ag Production Systems - Livestock
(320) 255-6169