The maternity pen is a calf’s first contact with her environment, and what the calf is exposed to can make or break her future in your dairy herd. That’s why maternity pen management needs to be a high priority on your dairy. Here are some opportunities for you to help get your calves off to a healthy start.
Calving area hygiene
Before the calf arrives, make sure the calving area is clean by following these steps:
- Freshly bed calving pen before each calving, and clean out dirty bedding after each calving.
- Provide a deep bed (minimum of 6 inches) of straw, shavings or sand.
- Sanitize pen floors, walls and gates.
It’s important for the health of both the cow and calf that each cow has a safe calving. Reference your dairy’s calving procedures, including monitoring progress and assisting. Consider these tasks:
- Monitor close-up cows for calving signs every two to four hours.
- Provide cows one to four hours of labor; examine if no progress.
- Allow first-calf heifers two to four hours of labor; examine if no progress.
- Watch for early calving signs:
- Swollen udder and teats
- Cow looking uneasy or pacing around pen
- Enlargement or softening of the vulva
- Raised tailhead
- Visible water bag
- If possible, avoid disturbing cows and replacement heifers during pre-calving and post-calving to help ease the natural calving process.
Post-calving navel dipping
Dipping a newborn calf’s navel helps protect the calf against disease during the first days of life. Follow these tips for administration and timing of navel dipping:
- Dip the calf’s navel immediately after birth.
- Use a strong tincture of iodine (at least 7%). If availability is limited, consult your veterinarian.
- Redip the calf’s navel when the calf is moved to an individual hutch or pen.
- Redip the calf’s navel again 12 to 18 hours after moving to its individual hutch or pen.
- Trim the end of the navel with a clean scissors.
Vaccinating with an intranasal vaccine
Vaccinating calves with INFORCE™ 3 respiratory vaccine at birth can help calves build strong immunity against respiratory disease-causing pathogens.
- Administer 2 mL intranasally using a cannula or a syringe with the needle removed, placing 1 mL in each nostril.
- Work with your veterinarian to establish vaccination programs that may include revaccination for transition calves.
Providing newborn calves with the necessary level of protective antibodies is essential to achieve successful immunoglobulin transfer as well as absorption of other important nutrients and compounds.
- Ensure colostrum is harvested clean to keep bacteria levels as low as possible.
- Feed first feeding of colostrum within two hours of birth.
- First feeding of colostrum should amount to 10% of a calf’s body weight (e.g., Holstein newborns require about 4 quarts per feeding and Jersey newborns require about 3 quarts).
- Feed second feeding (two quarts of colostrum) before 12 hours of life.
Remember that cleanliness is key around calves. Be sure to wear clean clothes and boots, wash your hands or wear gloves, and wash and sanitize calf equipment between calves.
Review the maternity pen assessment portion of the Zoetis Calf & Heifer Assessment with your Zoetis representative or veterinarian to develop and incorporate proper calf management protocols in your calf care program.