Never economise on straw

On average, calves spend 14 days in an individual pen, before moving to group accommodation. Specifically, during the final few days in the individual pen, once the calf has grown well and is drinking plenty of milk, it is important that the pen remains clean and dry.

It all appears very obvious but if calves become damp, even if it only affects their legs and lower belly, they quickly feel cold and run a greater risk of airway ­problems and diarrhea. ‘Compare it to a wet coat,’ suggested Johan Verdaasdonk, young cattle ­specialist. ‘If you walk around too long in a wet coat, you will catch a cold too.’ The test for sufficient straw in the pen is a very simple one: do the knee test. ‘Kneel on the straw in the pen for 30 seconds. If your knees and legs stay dry, there is enough straw.’  After spending a few months on straw, it is time to move the calves to the cubicles. This is a major change, and there is a risk that the calves will lie down on cold grids covered in manure. Johan Verdaasdonk, offers a useful tip for this stage, too. ‘Throw some straw into the pen; out of habit, that is where the calves will then lie down.’ 

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