Management of Down Calvers and Calf Raising

The dairy farming starts with the birth of a healthy and vigorous calf. The care of calf starts in the womb of cow itself. The cows during last 6-8 weeks of pregnancy,called “down calvers” become slow and gentle separating themselves from the general herd and avoid fights so as to guard against any injury to the fetus inside the womb. Therefore, the advanced pregnant cows especially during the last 15 days of pregnancy need special care and attention of the dairyman.

i. Care and Management of Down Calver Cows and Buffaloes
a) Shifting the cows and buffaloes to the calving pens: The advance pregnant cows should be separated from the general herd and should be shifted to individual calving pens (maternity pens) about 1 to 2 weeks before the expected date of calving. The keeping of down calver cows and buffaloes individually in calving pens provide the pregnant cows with better climatic protection and the disturbance from other cows is avoided. The cows in these pens are given individual attention and kept under the watch round the clock. These pens can be disinfected which prevent chances of infection gaining entry at the time of calving. Chances of contamination of the general herd by infected cows and healthy cows contacting diseases of genital tract are minimized.Small farmers who have only one or two animals must tie the cow in advanced pregnancy separately in a clean area where it will not be disturbed. Good straw bedding should be provided. In farms where abortions and calf diseases are common, the calving pen should be sterilized regularly. The floor and walls should be scraped and scrubbed with 4 per cent washing soda in hot water and disinfected before the cows are brought in. Once in the calving pen, the cows should be provided a good quality laxative feed and ample amount of clean drinking water.

b) Care at calving: The cow should be kept under constant watch for the signs of parturition like swelling of the udder, swelling of the vulva and drooping away ligaments around the tail head. At the first sign of calving, the first two fore feet followed by the muzzle will appear after the water bag has burst. Birth usually takes place 2 to 4 hours. If the labour prolongs for more than four
hours, abnormal presentation may be suspected and veterinary aid may be called for immediately.

After parturition wash the udder and hindquarters with lukewarm water containing an antiseptic and dry with a clean cloth. Watch for the expulsion of afterbirth (placenta). It will be expelled within 2 to 4 hours after the calving.If it is not expelled within 8 to 12 hours, help of a veterinarian may be sought.

ii. Care and Management of Calf at Birth
a) Attending to the newly born calf: Immediately after the birth of the calf, all phlegm (mucus) sticking in the nostrils, mouth and on the body should be removed and the calf should be wiped dry with a clean cloth. Normally the calf starts respiration immediately after birth on its own. However, sometimes the respiratory tract of the calf may be blocked by mucus and the calf may not start breathing. Under this situation, hold the calf head down by lifting it holding the back. The mucus may flow off and the calf may start breathing.The new born calf should be protected from inclement weather conditions especially during winter months and be provided with plenty of dry bedding like straw.

b) Disinfecting the navel cord: The navel of the calf should be painted with antiseptics like tincture of iodine soon after birth to prevent infection gaining entry through the navel. If the umbilical cord is not broken, a ligature may be put 2-3 cm away from the body with a sterile thread and cut 1 cm distal to the ligature with a clean sterile scissors. A small amount of antiseptic lotion may be painted at the cut end and protected from flies.

c) Colostrum feeding: The calf should be fed with colostrum (first milk of cow after calving) for the first 3 to 4 days of its birth. The feeding of colostrum is very essential as the antibodies present in colostrum provide passive immunity to the calf against many diseases. It should be fed within half to one hour after birth of the calf at the rate of 1/10 of its body weight per day. In conditions where there are no facilities to weigh the calf, a quantity of 2.5-3.0 kg colostrumper day per calf may be offered. So as to reduce the feeding and labour costs, the calves of crossbred cows may be weaned at birth and maintained in an individual pen for the first few weeks. In case weaning is not practiced, the calves should be allowed to suckle for 5 minutes 4-5 times a day.

iii. Management and Feeding Practices for Growing Calves

The husbandry practices and feeding of the calves born at the farm are aimed at attaining a higher rate of growth with a lower morbidity and mortality.

a) Management practices: The new-born calves should be provided with individual housing for 4-6 weeks after birth for better protection and care.These houses should have the provision for warming in winter season and cooling in summer season along with the provision of a good bedding on the floors. Later on they may be kept in small groups. The new born calves are given an identification number during the first 3-4 days generally by tattooing the number in the left ear or by tagging. At large farms, dehorning of crossbred calves may be done by removing the horn buds with an electric dehorner within 1 to 2 weeks of birth. Any extra teats present on the udder of female calves called “supernumerary teats” are removed within first 1 to 2 months after birth.

b) Feeding of growing calves: The feeding of weaned calves after initial colostrum period shall be as per the following feeding schedule: (Table)
Feeding schedule for calves
Feeding schedule for calves
From 6 months onwards, the calves may be offered a good quality green fodder free choice along with the supplementation of 1.0 to 1.5 kg of concentrate mixture per calf daily. The deworming of the growing calves is to be done regularly. The following calf deworming schedule may be followed at the dairy farm (Table)
Deworming Schedule for Calves
Deworming Schedule for Calves
Later on whenever infection of endoparasites is suspected broad spectrum anthehelmintic drugs like albendazole, fenbendazole or thiobendazole should be usedat the rate of 5-10 mg/ kg body weight depending on the severity of infection. The growing calves may also need to be protected from ectoparasites click, tick by periodically spraying of animals and calf houses.

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