“The lion and the calf shall lie down together, but the calf won’t get much sleep.” This quote from a Woody Allen book (Without Feathers, 1976), may be humorous, but when applied to some of your dairy farms, do marginal calf management programs make the calf raiser the lion?

Because this March issue is dedicated to beef and dairy calves, I did some brain-picking with calf expert Sam Leadley, PhD, Attica Veterinary Associates, Attica, N.Y., about the changing environment of calf care both on dairies and with veterinarians. I asked him when the current attention to calf raising started. “We began our calf raisers’ group in western New York in the early 1990s,” Leadley says. “The first meeting was a lunch for women calf raisers sponsored by Agway in the fall of 1991, and it really took off by 1996. I feel that the momentum has grown now to the point that everyone who plans meetings for dairy farmers considers a heifer-related topic.”

Neonatal nutrition is the cornerstone on which we build healthy calves that grow at a rate that is profitable. “My message over and over again starting in the fall every year is the same  —  feed enough to both maintain the body and grow,” explains Leadley. “Too many persons get focused on intensive feeding programs and are busy pointing out how bad they are. This deflects attention from the need for basic nutrition. Inevitably, feeding just barely enough to meet maintenance needs (or even less in very cold weather) leads to a literal barrage of illnesses.”

Veterinarians’ role

There is wide variation among veterinarians in the level of interest they have in calves/heifers. “If you are the only veterinarian for a farm, I feel it is an obligation, at least once or twice a year, to do a risk assessment on the calf enterprise.” (see practice tips). In areas that have seasonal times of high stress such as Florida in the summer and Minnesota in the winter, the likelihood of a risk assessment leading to the adoption of recommended practices might be higher than when everything is going smoothly.

Leadley believes that the highest probability for getting a recommended practice adopted that has a very high profit potential is to check out the colostrum management program. “Within colostrum management, I have found that checking the bacteria content of the colostrum is the most powerful diagnostic tool, because the chances are around 80% that the vet is going to find contaminated colostrum.” This opens the door, Leadley says, to discussing things like risk assessments and identifying areas of improvement.

Seize the moment when you can. “There is nothing like dead calves to get a farmer’s attention,” Leadley adds. “One of our jobs is to suggest thresholds for performance. I think it is appropriate for the veterinarian to push the calf raiser on the farm to summarize mortality every year.”

For more calf raising information, visit www.atticacows.com and sign up for Leadley’s Calving Ease e-newsletter.

And please, be kind to those calves.