Gill Dickson, veteran calf and youngstock on-farm advisor, believes that in many ways it's nurture rather than nature that has the most influence over calf health and performance. How a calf is managed from the time it's born through the first 12 weeks of life is more important, in her eyes, than genetics or breeding.
Ms. Dickson knows just how important quality nutrition is for the health and growth of neonatal calves. When she travels to farms to assess calf performance, she starts by looking at their health history and the incidences of scours and pneumonia. Since she knows there's a strong relationship between how much colostrum the calves get and the number of incidences of pneumonia later on, she recommends a higher amount of colostrum. She also assesses the level of milk powder they're feeding on-farm as she understands that if you elevate the plane of nutrition, you will indeed have healthier calves.
In addition to nutritional inputs, she also stresses that many other aspects of on-farm calf management are part of the equation as well. These can run the gamut from properly managing colostrum feeding to making sure calf hygiene in taken care of in all ways, to making sure that indeed all aspects of the calves' environment are good.
While she understands that farmers are often worried about costs, she knows that investing in better nutrition and in better environments for calves will pay off in the long run. She relates that if you feed a young heifer really well, it will be a bigger, healthier calf and so the farmer will end up with fewer veterinarian bills, a calf that reaches puberty earlier and is therefore able to calve earlier, and a heifer that will go on to have greater lifetime milk production. She further explains that when you compare the cost of once a day feeding, twice a day feeding, computerized feeding and ad lib warm milk feeding, the actual cost per kilo of live weight gain is remarkably similar.
So, to Gill Dickson's way of thinking, elevating the plane of nutrition and taking extraordinary care of young calves is really the only way to go!