People (decision-making – habitats, and behaviour) are the bigger factor driving calf health, Tommy the Vet (Tommy Heffernan) has told a veterinary webinar.
The renowned veterinary consultant listed feeding, environment, and disease/routines as other drivers during a webinar on the role of habitats and behaviour in calf rearing, hosted by Interchem, on Thursday, January 19th, 2023.
He said that there are two key pillars to the approach, the first of which is around biology around the calf and secondly, performance and understanding people’s behaviour.
He outlined that with high-performance people, at a basic level, to optimise, we must have a goal/target/objective, which in respect of calf rearing, could be metrics such as ADG (average daily gain), mortality, or morbidity, for example.
Moreover, he said that goals are “meaningless” without having the skills and resources available to achieve them.
At this point, he added, veterinary practices and practitioners can offer their expertise to farmers to help with the calf-rearing process, for example.
But he did stress that the individual is “very much responsible for the outcome of the goal, and that becomes really key when we think about the processes, habitats and behaviours”.
“When something works, you repeat it and look at how it might impact from a farm perspective.”
Optimising biology for animal performance
He then went on to discuss optimising biology for animal performance and provided findings which resulted from his Nuffield Scholarship in 2019.
Essentially, this concept revolves around understanding a calf in terms of requirements and building systems around these factors.
He capitalised on this by saying: “What will be the normal nature biological behaviours of the calf? We are learning new things; if you look at socialisation, paired housing for young calves and behaviour.”
“The reason why I focus on what does a calf want is when you go and look at a system, and there is stress within that system, then we can see why the challenges will occur.”
“On a bigger picture, if we look at the challenge of more numbers of calves, I think optimising biology, for me, is a strategy going forward that is good for the calf, the farmer, the processor and the consumer.”
“So, what is good for the calf is good for everybody,” he told the virtual information session.
He outlined that while farmers cannot control some stressors, should as “massive” weather changes, there are some actions that they can take control of at farm-gate level.
He listed poor dry cow management, hard calving, feeding (inconsistencies), environment (weather), bad handling, social creates, debudding/dehorning and transport as some potential stress gaps on farms.
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