Abstracts: A survey of calf rearing practices in the south-west region of Western Australia

Aims: To gather data on the calf management and rearing practices of a subset of dairy farmers in the south-west region of Western Australia.

Methods: A 30-minute face-to-face survey was conducted with dairy cattle producers in the south-west region of Western Australia from April-June 2019 to determine pre-weaning calf rearing practices. Participation was voluntary, using a self-selected subset of dairy farmers registered with a regional extension group. The questionnaire assessed three broad categories: farm demographics, colostrum harvesting and management and calf rearing practices.

Results: The study response rate was 34/140 (24 per cent). The following key areas were identified where there were deviations from recognised best practice: Precalving: no transition diet was fed pre-calving on 4/34 (12 per cent) of farms, and on a further 5/34 (15 per cent) it was fed for less than 3 weeks; mixing of heifers and adult cows in the calving paddocks occurred in 24/34 (70 per cent) of the farms, with 15 per cent (5/34) of the farms using calving induction. During calving 14/34 (41 per cent) of the farms did not disinfect navels of new-born calves; although 23/34 farmers stated that they collected calves within 6 hours of birth, data on frequency of calf pick-up (2/34 did not separate calves and dams and 19/34 picked up only once per day) indicated that on 21/34 farms (62 per cent) the reality was that calves were picked up >12 hours after birth. Colostrum quality was not assessed appropriately on 18/34 (53 per cent) farms and farmers overestimated how soon after birth it was administered: 23/34 (68 per cent) reported feeding it within 6 hours of calving, despite 62 per cent picking up calves >12 hours after calving. Regarding calf rearing practices, no pain relief before or after dehorning was used on 20/34 (59 per cent) farms, calf bedding was removed infrequently (<weekly) on 26/35 (76 per cent) farms and appropriate isolation of sick calves was only reported by 14/34 (41 per cent) farmers.

Conclusion and clinical relevance: Although limited by the low response rate, this is the first survey of dairy calf rearing practices in the south-western region of Western Australia. We found evidence of at least one process inconsistent with industry best-practice on 34/140 (24 per cent) of responding farms and all farms had more than one sub-optimal calf rearing practice. This highlights the need to improve calf rearing in this region and identifies key areas of deficiency for further study and extension to producers.

J W Aleri 1 2A D Fisher 3 4J Gogoi-Tiwari 1F K Waichigo 5H R Sodagari 1P C Irons 1I D Robertson 1

NZ Vet J. 2022 Mar 7; 1-7.doi: 10.1080/00480169.2022.2042413. Online ahead of print.

1School of Veterinary Medicine, College of Science, Health, Engineering and Education, Murdoch University, Murdoch, WA, Australia.

2Centre for Animal Production and Health, Future Foods Institute, Murdoch University, Murdoch, WA, Australia.

3Faculty of Veterinary and Agricultural Sciences, University of Melbourne, Werribee, Victoria, Australia.

4Animal Welfare Science Centre, University of Melbourne, Victoria, Parkville, Australia.

5Brunswick Veterinary Services, Brunswick Junction, WA, Australia.

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