Soon, winter will make its unwelcome return and with it, difficult challenges when it comes to raising calves. After a reprieve last year from a couple of exceptionally harsh winters in a row, most people expect the cold and snow to return again with a vengeance.
If it does, you might want to consider these factors for the sake of your calves.
Experience tells me that there are two major things that need to be done to wean a healthy calf in the winter. Having and following a sound colostrum plan is first and foremost.
Colostrum is the first milk produced by the cow and is necessary for the calf's immune system to function properly. The positive effects of colostrum are felt by the calf well past the time she is weaned. Conversely, the negative effects from the lack of adequate colostrum intake are likewise felt well past weaning.
All calves are born with an incompetent immune system. Without the priming immunity the calf receives from colostrum, the newborn is susceptible to a host of infectious diseases.
It is well accepted that larger calves like the Holstein require a gallon of colostrum at birth in order to achieve a minimum level of protection. The high volume is necessary because colostrum from dairy cows contain a lower concentration of antibodies (proteins that help prime the immune system) than beef cattle.
In most cases, a full gallon of colostrum at birth will give adequate protection to the calf. Jersey calves need at least two to three quarts at first feeding.
Some calves will drink the whole gallon of colostrum on their own, but many will not. In most cases, I recommend that calves be given the entire gallon through an esophageal feeder tube. Don't give the calf the opportunity to turn down that last quart; just tube it.
Yes, if calves get a full gallon of colostrum at birth, they might get a touch of diarrhea the next day. Colostrum has a laxative effect, which actually comes in quite handy for the calf who is trying to expel that nasty, sticky meconium.
Don't concern yourself with a little bit of milk scours but recognize that a gallon of colostrum is going to help prevent that bad case of E. coli diarrhea.