Take the temperature test to put yourself in the place of a baby calf

Take the temperature test to put yourself in the place of a baby calf
File photo

Last week, I listened with intent to a speaker who delivers his message precisely.

He shoots from the hip and doesn’t leave anything to the imagination.

This is one of the reasons that he is so successful as a consultant throughout Europe, but more especially in the Scandinavian countries.

Martin Kavanagh is a veterinary surgeon that I first met in 2010 when we both started to study for the post-graduate Certificate on Dairy Herd Health at UCD in Dublin.

I have seen him in action at various events over the years.

At one on-farm event with clients of mine, we were discussing issues that arise in the calf house.

At the time, there were no calves present, and ventilation was on the agenda.

After about five minutes of seeking answers from his audience, who were standing in the concrete feeding passage of the calf house, Martin ventured to ask if anyone felt the cold. He could see that by now his listeners were starting to tremble a little from the low temperatures, and having received the affirmative, then went on to ask where they felt the cold most.

It was then that people actually started to think about it, and realise that, even though the day itself was cold, where they were feeling the most discomfort was from the concrete floor.

Their feet were freezing.

Then we moved to the straw bedding for the next section.

The difference was quite unbelievable as, almost immediately, we began to warm up.

We were still standing in the same air space, with the same air temperature, but the change in the underfoot conditions was what did it.

This is the kind of way Martin gets his message across.

Quite often, while sitting in the comfort of a lecture hall watching a slide show, you will completely miss the point of this message.

Young calves, in the first few weeks of life, have what is called a critical temperature.

When the air is below this temperature, the little calf starts to feel it.

The calf will have to start to use up whatever energy sources it has just to stay warm and comfortable.

Now, a young calf does not have very much fat cover, so the only source of energy that it can draw on is the feed that it is being given, that is the milk it is being fed in the first week or two of life.

If the calf is using the most of this just to keep itself warm, then there is no way that it can possible grow as we expect it to grow.

This critical temperature for the young calf is 15 degrees.

As a little exercise, I recently googled the average monthly temperature for different areas in Ireland.

The average monthly temperature in Cork does not hit 15 degrees until the month of May, while in the midlands, it is June before this critical temperature is reached.

This is the reason that the likes of Martin are constantly trying to get the message across about keeping calves warm.

The bedding that calves are lying in should be deep enough to cover their shoulders.

The advent of the calf jacket brought another dimension to this subject, making some calves’ lives much easier.

With temperatures anywhere from below freezing to five degrees in the months of February and March, calves need to be kept warm, so that they can be cost-effective in their food conversion.

Pay attention to their bedding, and put jackets on all calves under two weeks, this coming spring, and you will reap the rewards.

- Paul Redmond, MVB, MRCVS, Cert DHH, Duntahane Veterinary Clinic, Fermoy

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