Score-based audits of youngstock rearing systems are helping dairy farms pinpoint calf husbandry weaknesses and identify opportunities to improve the health and productive performance of their future herd replacements.
Speaking to farmers at a UK Dairy Day technical seminar [Wednesday 12th September 2018], MSD livestock veterinary advisor Dr Kat Baxter-Smith highlighted the benefits being gained from interactive on-farm calf health assessments, which are now being offered by vets in practice.
“Dairy farmers concerned about calf health can now ask their vet to use a new MSD Animal Health checklist tool to score their youngstock rearing system. More than 100 youngstock audits have now been completed this year and farmer feedback has been excellent. The feedback to date suggests improving colostrum management practices are a priority for many units,” she said.
The comprehensive and interactive checklist – developed in conjunction with vets and nutritionists experienced in investigating youngstock management problems – helps practitioner and farmer work closely together to draw up a workable action plan to improve calf health.
“The checklist-based tool explores, records and scores calf health performance across five core areas (see supporting graphic) to identify the strengths and weaknesses of any rearing unit’s environment and processes,” Dr Baxter-Smith explained.
“Working through a series of 10 questions within each core area – designed to tease out where a rearing unit is in terms of accepted best management practice – allows vet and farmer to quickly pinpoint any areas needing attention. What’s more, repeating the checklist every six or 12 months is a great way to keep things on track, allowing both parties to monitor progress against agreed targets,” she added.
Five steps to better calf health:
- Set goals and measure
- Implement good colostrum management and feeding protocols
- Feed calves correctly
- Maintain low infection pressure and vaccinate
- Ensure a healthy rearing environment
Dr Baxter-Smith stressed that the early life management of dairy youngstock has far reaching consequences for productive lifetime performance. Farmers interested in how they can use the new checklist to improve their youngstock rearing efficiency – and subsequent milking herd performance – should contact their vet for further information.