Score-based audits of youngstock rearing systems could help pinpoint calf husbandry weaknesses and identify opportunities to improve the health and productive performance of their future herd replacements.

Speaking to farmers today at a UK Dairy Day technical seminar, MSD livestock veterinary advisor Dr. Kat Baxter-Smith highlighted the benefits being gained from interactive on-farm calf health assessments, which are now being offered by vets.

“Dairy farmers concerned about calf health can now ask their vet to use a new MSD Animal Health checklist tool to score their youngstock rearing system,” she said.

More than 100 youngstock audits have now been completed this year and farmer feedback has been excellent. The feedback to date suggests improving colostrum management practices are a priority for many units.

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.

How it works

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.

“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,” Dr. Baxter-Smith explained.

“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.

Dr. Baxter-Smith stressed that the early life management of dairy youngstock has “far-reaching consequences” for productive lifetime performance.

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