Calf feeding is focal pointof research into dairy health

Calves require higher levels of milk feeding to do well, but this can cause complications because it can make weaning more difficult

Dan Weary’s research goal is to improve the lives of animals in the dairy industry.

Weary, a professor at the University of British Columbia, said a major part of their work involves working with young calves.

“On most Canadian dairy farms, the farmers are keeping all of the baby females, the heifer calf and they’re rearing those calves who then become the future of the farm.

“It’s really important in terms of the long-term sustainability of that individual farm that these calves grow up to be big, healthy, strapping, productive dairy cows,” said Weary.

He said feeding calves is an important focal point of their study.

“When I did my very first research into dairy cattle, the common practice was to feed calves just four litres of milk a day. For a baby calf, that’s about 10 percent of their body weight.

“What we found over the years, is that calves really require much higher levels of milk feeding for them to do well, for them to thrive physically, for them to grow at the rate of growth that they’re capable of.”

He said even though that sounds like easy, common-sense advice, it comes with complications. One problem is that if a producer feeds a calf more milk, it is more difficult to wean the calf later. That then creates a new challenge of how to improve weaning practices, he said.

Weary said adult cows are at their greatest health risk around calving. He said he and other researchers are looking at ways to use different types of sensors to better track and identify the sick animals earlier.

He said they are also looking at housing to see what designs work best for the animals.

“Trying to make the stalls work better, trying to make the stalls more comfortable for the cows to use, making them easier to get in and out of, more likely that they spend time in them because one of the things that we’ve learned is a big risk for lameness is the cows spending a lot of time in the wet, concrete alleys outside of the stall.

“That’s a very hard place for the cow in terms of being dangerous for the health. We’ve been really trying to look at how to get the stalls to work better for the cows,” he said.

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