Dam ‘well being’ and calf-rearing protocols impact on cow productivity

Dam ‘well being’ and calf-rearing protocols impact on cow productivity
12 Feb 2018

The productivity of adult cows depends, in part, on the well-being of their dam and calf-rearing protocols. So said Cargill’s calf and heifer specialist Bianca Theeruth, speaking at February’s Dairy-Tech event.

She told producers that the management of the dam could have a bearing on her calf, well beyond the post-calving days and highlighted research that showed that calves born from cows fed on low energy diets were lighter, shorter and had reduced immune status indicators at birth, compared with those born from cows on high energy diets.

“This presents a barrier even before the calf is born,” she said. “We must remember that what we do to the mother, we do to the calf.”

Dry cow care

The effects can extend into the cow’s productive life. Ms Theeruth quoted trial results that showed that calves born from cows that were kept cool during their dry period – before calving – consistently produced more milk throughout their first lactation than calves born from cows that were subject to heat stress (Monterio et al 2016).

“The difference was more than 5kg of milk per day,” she added. “This illustrates the longer-term effect of dry cow care on their offspring.”

Calving problems

Calving problems can also impact on both dam and calf productivity, with Ms Theeruth showing lactation yields from both being consistently lower where the birth had been vet-assisted, compared with an easy calving (Eaglen et al 2011).

Lactation curves for cows and their respective calves with moderate and difficult calvings were also depressed, although not to the same extent as those cows, and calves born from, with vet-assisted calvings. Trials showed assisted calves at birth produced 710kg less milk in 305-day yields than those not assisted.

“The effect of colostrum on calf productivity later in life is also well-documented,” she added, pointing out that the benefits of feeding adequate high-quality colostrum in the first hour could reduce veterinary costs, achieve better weight gains in the rearing period, an earlier age at first calving and higher first lactation yields.

“Keeping calves healthy and on their growth target is particularly important,” she said, pointing to research that shows losses of 126kg of ME in milk produced in the first lactation for each day that a pre-weaned calf had been affected with disease, such as scours or coughing. (Heinrichs and Heinrichs 2011).