Key technical aspects
Care at the time of birth and colostrum
Care at the time of birth and colostrum are paramount to successful heifer breeding: more than half of deaths occur during the first two days and one in two calves does not have enough antibodies.
Colostrum is the first essential food. The antibodies present in colostrum are the calf’s first means of immune defence (protection against bacteria and viruses in the environment).
Good colostrum should contain at least 60 g/l of immunoglobulin.
Colostrum has a considerably higher energy value and more concentrated vitamins and minerals. More specifically, it is enriched with immunoglobulin which brings the only protection against bacteria and viruses present in the calf’s environment. It therefore has an excellent food value and provides energy to a calf that has low reserves and loses a lot of heat after birth.
The quality of the colostrum, and more specifically the antibody content, varies from one cow to another and depends on the quality of feed at the end of gestation. It is therefore important to monitor the quality of colostrum and build a bank of frozen colostrum.
As with the quality to the immune system, the intestinal absorption capacity of the immunoglobulin is halved 12 hours after birth.
- Clear the nasal passages to remove mucus from the respiratory tract.
- Rub down the calf or allow the mother to lick it to avoid the risk of hypothermia.
- Give at least two litres of colostrum within two hours of birth (milk from the first milking contains twice as many antibodies as milk from the second milking).
- Give another two litres of colostrum between 6 and 12 hours after birth.
- Provide it for two to three days (protective lining on the intestinal mucous membrane).
- Disinfect the umbilical cord.
- Put the calf in a clean room with sufficient straw bedding.
Growth and weaning
Optimal growth during the ‘milk feeding’ phase determines the career of the future dairy cow (longevity, milk production, etc.).
If growth is insufficient: risk of culling in 50% of cases at 3rd calving (<700 g/d from 0 to 6 months = 5 kg less at weaning = 20 kg less at 6 months = 200 litres less milk per lactation).
The more sustained the growth, the more optimal the development of the udder.
The calf must double its birth weight, the ADG should be around 800 g/day.
Postpone weaning for calves that are lighter at the time of birth.
What are my heifer growth goals?
Growth of around 800 g/day is beneficial for heifer breeding.
The compensatory growth phenomenon does not apply in the first six months of the calf’s life, any delay is irremediable!
With growth below 700 g/day between 0 and 6 months, heifers are likely to be culled before the 3rd calving in one in two cases.
Different studies have shown that heifers that are heavier at six months (>200 kg) presented better fertility, longevity, and milk production results.
20 kg de moins à 6 mois, c’est:
- 20 kg less at six months means
- 200 litres less milk per lactation
- Weight of carcass when culling <20 kg
- Reduced longevity (- 1 year)
The weaning phase can be difficult and requires special attention. Before milk feeding is stopped, the intake of concentrates and fodder should be gradual to boost development of the rumen.
When to wean?
- Age of calves 8 to 10 weeks
- Minimum: 2 kg of solid food/day/calf
- The calf should double its birth weight