A survey of calving and colostrum management practices on Irish dairy farms
This study aimed to identify calving and colostrum management practices on Irish dairy farms that may compromise neonatal calf health. The study population was randomly selected from the Irish Cattle Breeding Federation (ICBF) HerdPlus group (n=320) and balanced for herd size and geographical location. The survey consisted of four sections: cow management, calving management, colostrum management and calf management (calving and colostrum are described here). Questions related to hygiene, type of calving pens used, and colostrum collection, storage, and feeding management. Surveys were mailed between 11 July and 15 August 2013. Responses were entered onto the online package SurveyMonkey (www.surveymonkey.com). Coded responses were downloaded to one file and data was collated using Microsoft Excel. A univariable chi-square analysis (significance P<0.05) was performed using ‘PROC FREQ’ in SAS (v9.3), with two independent variables: milk production (MP), and enterprise. Milk production category one (MP1) included suppliers with a milk production limit (quota) of ≤380,000L; MP2 >380,000L and <600,000L; and MP3 ≥600,000L. Enterprise was divided into specialist dairy farms (SD) & dairy farms with another enterprise (DO). The final response rate was 85%. On univariable analysis, group calving pens were more common among MP3 (60%) than MP1 (37%; P<0.05), who tended to use individual pens (24% MP3; 47% MP1; P<0.05). Cleaning of calving pens was infrequent across all study herds (42% ≤1×month), while 81% left calves in calving pens for ≥2 hours after birth. Regarding colostrum, MP3 respondents more commonly collected colostrum at first herd milking post-calving compared to MP1 and MP2, the majority of which collected within two hours (P<0.05). Most SD herds collected colostrum at the first scheduled milking post-calving compared to DO herds (43% SD; 26% DO; P<0.01). More MP1 herds allowed calves to consume own dam colostrum (79%), compared to MP2 (56%) and MP3 (44%), however they also allowed calves suckle their dam (48% MP1 vs. 40% MP2 and 32% MP3). Consequently, MP1 calves received colostrum earlier compared to MP3 (45% MP1 vs. 35% MP3 within one hour; P<0.05). Of farms not feeding calves colostrum from their own dam, 32% of MP3 used pooled colostrum for the calf’s first feed compared to MP1 (13%) and MP2 (15%). The most common storage method was freezing (46%), mainly for 1-6 months (44%). This study indicates that calving and colostrum management practices on many Irish dairy farms are suboptimal and may lead to compromised calf health.
Keywords: Colostrum; Calving; Survey