BELGIUM - Key dairy calf management practices can be informed by observing how Belgian Blue calves are reared, says a Belgian cattle expert.
Core aspects of youngstock rearing such as colostrum, the use of selenium in the cow prior to calving and minimising respiratory infections are examples of such insights, according to Dr Geert Hoflack, technical cattle advisor at MSD Belgium.
Respiratory and circulatory complications need overcoming on Belgian Blue farms due to calves being born with smaller vital organs in relation to their muscle mass.
Speaking at the Global Dairy Calf Symposium, Eindhoven, the Netherlands, Dr Hoflack outlined the inherent difficulties in rearing Belgian Blue calves due to their double muscle phenotype.
Physiological complications with the tongue and jaw even mean suckling the teat is hard work, he explained.
Specifically, Belgian Blue calves are more prone to Bovine Viral Diarrhoea as well as respiratory disease.
Furthermore, there is no utero transmission of antibodies as the breed has a six layer placenta - humans have four layers.
“Extra importance is given for ventilation and the barn environment,” said Dr Hooflack. “We also advise to vaccinate against respiratory disease.”
Common practice is to inject selenium into the dam before calving, which assists the new-born in its first breath.
“Supplying selenium to a pregnant cow has several effects, but one critical feature is its use as a surfactant,” said Dr Hoflack.
This helps lungs open on the calf’s first inhalation.
“When the calf is born the lungs are small and compact,” added Dr Hoflack.
“You risk chance of the lungs not opening completely.”
Without proper care there can be dire consequences for calves. Smaller hearts struggle to match the body’s needs, resulting in sudden death due to cardiomyopathy.
“Calves can be excited by the prospect of food and then suddenly die,” said Dr Hoflack.
“The heart must pump blood around to fuel muscles and calves die a quick, acute death.”
At around 10 months of age the calf reaches an ‘equilibrium’ due to organs growing faster and matching the muscle structure.
“If you have success with Belgian Blues, you can manage other cattle,” said Dr Hoflack.
Time spent with the calf to get management right is ‘worth it’ he added.
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