"Don't tiptoe around hygiene when it comes to calf health and performance", said Jamie Robertson from Aberdeen University. He explained that work done by Owen Atkinson as part of the Dairy Youngstock Project in 2015 showed that 25% of heifer calves were treated for scours and 78% of farms had major scour pathogens diagnosed.
"Put protocols in place to make sure the cleaning of calf housing and equipment is done to the right standard. You need to give people the time and space to do things properly", stressed Jamie. "Ensure facilities are given a deep clean on an annual basis, or after an outbreak of scours. Clean everything from the buckets to the calf housing surfaces with water above 60°c and make sure you're using the right disinfectant products at the right dilution and for the right amount of time."
"Good hygiene is one of the six key requirements for calf housing when you're looking to provide an environment in which calves can fight off infection, grow and thrive," he said. "The others are moisture management, provision of fresh air, reducing air speed in and temperature. And there is a relationship between them all."
"Removing moisture from calf housing is so important. Not only does moisture harbour infection but it also reduces a calf's Lower Critical Temperature (LCT) - the temperature at which the calf has to burn extra energy to keep warm. Look to cut channels and cast drains in housing you know harbours standing water and you need at least a 1:20 slope to drain under straw.
"The LCT is somewhere around 15°C for a calf and even lower for a new born. Add a draught and/or moisture and it falls even lower. Make sure calves have plenty to eat and are away from draughts. Consider using calf jackets but make sure they are breathable and can be washed at over 60°c. Heat lamps are a simple, hygienic way are a simple, hygienic way of adding heat to calf pens and can be controlled by a thermostat.
"Fresh air kills airborne pathogens 20 times faster than still air does but it is important to get that combination of clean air in, stale air out without causing a draught or allowing too much moisture to enter the building," said Jamie. "Proper Yorkshire boarding, with two lines of boarding with gaps offset, is the best way to do this."
"Calves don't create the heat necessary for the stack effect in still, stale areas but an upstand on the ridge creates a negative pressure and sucks the air out of the building. Fans can also be used as long as all parts of the building are reached and stale air has the opportunity to exit the building," he concluded.
Heifers are the best genetics in your herd, said Steven Morrison, from the Agri-Food and Bioscience Institute (AFBI) in Northern Ireland. Recent figures from AHDB Dairy show that the average PLI of heifers in the British herd stands at 176 whilst the average PLI of cows in their second lactation is 72.
"The first 50 days of a calf's life are crucial to its organ and tissue development, health and growth rates, plus subsequent long-term performance," said Peter van t'Veld, International Technical Manager for Denkavit. "And colostrum is the motor that drives it."