A significant number of UK beef and dairy calf rearers feel they don’t give their youngstock the attention they deserve, according to a recent survey conducted by MSD Animal Health.

A third of beef calf rearers and 45% of dairy calf rearers of the 749 UK farmers who responded to the national youngstock survey said they had concerns over youngstock health and think they could do better.

It comes despite giving themselves between seven and eight out of 10 for their current calf rearing practices.

“Youngstock are the future of any herd and the way their health is managed in early life has far-reaching consequences for the profitability of any beef or dairy farm enterprise,” says Dr Kat Baxter-Smith, ruminant veterinary adviser with MSD Animal Health.

“The number one concern highlighted by the survey – expressed by more than one in five farmers – was inadequate housing or rearing facilities.”

Top calf-rearing concerns

  1. Inadequate housing or rearing facilities;
  2. Inability to monitor and achieve an appropriate liveweight gain;
  3. Inadequate biosecurity measures and disease prevention.

“Other front-of-mind issues included implementing correct colostrum feeding and weaning management protocols,” Dr. Baxter-Smith added.

She explained the survey feedback indicates that farmers are looking for support in this important area.

“Calf rearing is a complex process to get absolutely right but is definitely rewarding if a number of simple husbandry guidelines and proven health protocols are implemented to suit any particular youngstock production system,” she said.

Beef and dairy producers concerned about calf health can now ask their vet to use an 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 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.

Keeping on track

“The checklist-based tool explores, records and scores calf health performance across five core areas to identify the strengths and weaknesses of any rearing unit’s environment and processes,” Dr. Baxter-Smith added.

“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.”

Five steps to better calf health:

  1. Set goals and measure;
  2. Implement good colostrum management and feeding protocols;
  3. Feed calves correctly;
  4. Maintain low infection pressure and vaccinate;
  5. Ensure a healthy rearing environment.

Farmers interested in how they can use the new checklist to improve their youngstock rearing efficiency should contact their vet for further information.