On Friday 25th September 2015, I had a training demonstration at Gatamaiyo area in Kiambu County. Gatamaiyo area is one of the regions in which the Farm Shop Trust continues to serve farmers by providing them with access to high quality products through their agro (agricultural products) dealer shop in the region. Having had previous trainings in the area, the farmers had requested me to train them on calf rearing this time round.

Ayrshire cow and a newborn calf
Ayrshire cow and a newborn calf

On arrival, I found some farmers had gathered and were having their own private discussions. I tried reaching and inviting some more by calling one after the other with the help of the lead farmer Mr. Stanley Mbugua. We started the training at 11.00 a.m. with a word of prayer. I then started my training by explaining to the farmers why proper calf management is important in a dairy enterprise.
It is important to rear calves properly since they form the foundation of the future herd in a dairy farming enterprise. Good management ensures a continuous replacement of spent stock with young and energetic stock. This is mainly by reducing calf mortality rate and cutting calving interval.

Calf handling at birth
An expectant cow should always be brought to the calving place 2-3 days before the expected calving date. Good record keeping ensures a farmer knows the correct calving date.

  • Outdoor (maternity paddock) – it should have good pastures, plenty of water, near the farm for closer supervision, clean and free from injurious objects i.e. sharp objects, stones etc.
  • Indoor (maternity pen) – it should be thoroughly cleaned before bringing in the expectant cow, have adequate space to allow free turning of the cow, and be lined with warm and dry bedding materials.

Once the cow calves down allow it to thoroughly lick the calf to clear nostrils off mucus. Licking also stimulates thoracic muscles hence the calf can start breathing. If by any reason the cow is not able to lick the calf, assistance to open the nostrils should be given. Cut the umbilical cord with disinfected clean razor and apply copper sulphate or iodine to protect the naval area from infection. Allow the calf to suckle colostrum and ensure that the cow expels the placenta which should be disposed safely in a pit or buried.

Calf feeding
First week
Colostrum feeding
Ensure that the calf gets colostrum (first milk) within the first 72 hours of life. Colostrum contains antibodies which impacts calf’s passive immunity. Colostrum is also very nutritious (proteins, minerals and vitamin A) and this gives the calf a good start. It is highly digestible hence it can be rapidly utilized in the body. Colostrum also acts as a laxative and it helps in removal of the meconium (first feaces) which if not removed causes constipation. The surplus colostrum can be stored for future us in case of orphaned calves.
On the first day, the calf should be provided with clean water. Hay should also be provided on a raised area for it to eat freely. Minerals should be provided as from this day. The calf should be fed about three times a day.
2nd to 4th Week
At this stage the calf depends majorly on fluids. The calf may be fed on:

  • Whole milk – bucket feeding/ Nipple feeding at 10% of its bodyweight.
  • Milk replacers/substitutes – These are usually reconstituted in warm water according to the manufacturers considerations.
  • Fodder – Some little fodder is introduced to the calf as from this week. Hay should also be hung in the pen for the calf to feed on freely. Calves should be provided with good quality hay and fresh forage by the 3rd week to enable them start developing their rumen

5th Week to Weaning
At this stage the calf should be fed with a combination of milk and solid feed. Concentrate (calf pellets) are beneficial at this time. The calf should be given a starter diet which should be:-

  • High in energy (75% Total Digestible Nutrients) and proteins (18 – 20%)
  • Rich in minerals and vitamins.
  • Palatable and acceptable to the calves

From the 7th week, you should start reducing the amount of milk fed gradually as you prepare the calf for weaning. This should be done gradually until the 12th week.

Calf Weaning
It entails total withdrawal of liquid feed from a calf so that it entirely depends on solid feeds (roughages and concentrates)
Either of the following criteria may be followed.

  • Age – early weaning is done at 5 – 12 weeks and it requires better organized feeding program involving more milk and early concentrate introduction. Late weaning is usually done between 3 – 4 months.
  • Size – done when the calf doubles their birth weight.
  • Body condition – sickling, weak, and very young calves are given more time to consume milk before they are weaned.
  • Feed intake – calves at weaning will be taking 2 kilograms or more solid feed particularly roughage.

It is important and is usually done every other month until the 9th month of life. After the 9th month, one should always deworm after every three months. One should alternate between drugs with different active ingredients to avoid antihelmintic resistance.

This is usually done at two months by use of a dehorning wire, a disbudding iron, dehorning rubber bands or caustic soda sticks.
Identification by use of eartags and removal of extra teats is also recommended early in life.

It is cheaper to raise young stock in the farm for the purposes of replacing the existing stock or expanding the herd than purchasing from the neighboring farm or market. This is because the productivity of an animal has a direct bearing on the care it was given when young, it is important that farmers put emphasis on caring for the young stock.

Dr. Otingah training farmers on proper calf rearing
Dr. Kennedy training farmers on proper calf rearing

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