This is the most critical period in a calf’s life. The goal is to keep them alive, healthy andgrowing during this period of feeding. Calves have special nutritional needs. If these needs are not met, the calf can run into serious health issues either as a calf or later in life as an adult cow or bull. They may for example face stunted growth, produce low milk when they grow up or deliver poor off springs.
Colostrum is a milky fluid that comes from the udder of cows the first few days after calving, before true milk appears. It contains proteins, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins, minerals, and proteins (antibodies) that fight disease-causing agents such as bacteria and viruses. Antibody levels in colostrums can be 100 times higher than levels in regular cow’s milk.
Colostrum intake is critical for a newborn calf, as its immune system is not fully developed when born. The calf must rely on colostrum from its mother until its own immune system is developed at 1 to 2 months of age. Research has shown that the bacterial exposure a calf receives at birth influences the amount of colostrum it will absorb. Early exposure of the intestine to large quantities of bacteria probably interferes with colostrum absorption. If maternity stalls are used, they should be clean, dry and bedded well with dry grass.
Generally a calf should receive 5 to 6 % of its body weight as colostrum within the first 6 hours of life, and another 5 to 6 % of its body weight when the calf is 12 hours old.
In case the mother cow dies at calving, artificial colostrum can be constituted formulated with:
- 0.5 litre fresh milk
- 1 fresh egg
- 0.25 litre fresh water
- 1 teaspoon cod liver oil
- 1 teaspoon castor or olive oil (laxative). All oils are commonly sold in super markets.
On day 5, start feeding whole milk at a rate 1 litre/day for every 10 kg live weight of calf. The ration is again split into 2 feedings. Do not alter feeding times and quantity of milk. Bottle-feeding can be used. Bucket feeding starts by inserting your 2 fingers in the bucket with milk and lowering the head of the calf’s mouth into the bucket.
Milk consumed by a calf constitutes 15-30% of the farm milk available for sale or processing in intensive (zero grazing) smallholder dairy cattle production systems in Uganda. In order to minimize milk consumption by calves, farmers often resort to restricted milk feeding systems, thereby, retarding calf growth, production and reproductive potential. Losses of up to 65% of daily body weight gains and 12% of body condition score have been reported. Under intensive dairy production systems bull calves are often completely eliminated at birth, resulting into low productivity and consequent high loss of farm income. On average, a calf should consume 6litres of milk per day divided into two feedings.
Roughage and concentrate feeding
Gradually, introduce good quality forage initially, from about 2 weeks of age. This stimulates rumen development and reduces problems of calf constipation . Introduce concentrate (calf starter) at about the same time pasture is introduced. Feeding is gradually increased so that by 12 weeks of age the calf is receiving 1-1.5 kg per day. Any change over of feed type should allow a gradual adaptation to new feed at least over a period of 7 days. The average cost of concentrate is sh1,000 per kilogram
Water is key
Provide the calf at least 10 litres per day of clean drinking water at all times, especially when the calf begins eating solid feed. Water troughs must be easily accessible to the calf on the calf pen. Troughs can be made from several common materials including buckets or basins.