Keeping dairy cows and calf together – how to manage biosecurity and health

Separation of cow and calf at birth has been common practice for decades. The interest in keeping cow and calf together for a longer time is increasing among both farmers and consumers. Before you start practicing this you must consider a few things first. Biosecurity is vital if you want to succeed.  


Uncover the risks 

Take a critical look at your farm – consult your veterinarian. Uncover the risks for introduction of new infectious diseases, but also the risk of spreading diseases already present at the farm. When you know the risk factors on your farm, you can take care of them. 


Small groups 

It is important to keep the cows and calves in smaller groups. Larger groups mean more options for contact between animals and a higher risk for spreading of diseases.  


Monitor colostrum quality and uptake 

Colostrum is critical for the newborn calf. You can not be sure that a calf that is only nursed by the cow gets enough colostrum. Up to 60 % of the calves will suffer to failure of passive transfer of antibodies. It is necessary to monitor both quality and amount of colostrum the calves ingest. Feeding the calf colostrum is a safe way to secure sufficient immunization. Always keep good quality colostrum in a colostrum bank, so you have colostrum to supply calves born from cows with little or to poor colostrum.  


Monitoring the calves  

Monitoring calf health is vital. Do not expect that the cow can do this job or that health monitoring is less time consuming when calves and cows are kept together. When calves are bucket fed twice daily, it is quite easy to monitor wellbeing of the calf, appetite and drinking speed. You do not get the same information if the cow is the caretaker. Therefore, the person responsible for monitoring the calves must look for the small signs of illness, so proper intervention can be carried out before it is too late.