September 14, 2019

Published in Milk Producer Magazine, 2019

We all know that getting calves off to a healthy start is critical to the success of any cattle operation. But for many producers, achieving quality and consistent calf health can be a challenge. Diseases such as pneumonia and diarrhea in young stock not only cost you money, they are a serious threat to animal health and welfare. Improving this situation takes time and effort, and means making calf health a priority. It also means getting your veterinarian actively engaged in calf health management on a routine basis.

These are some of the key areas being addressed by the Calf health improvement project (CHIP); a project led by Veal Farmers of Ontario (VFO) in collaboration with ACER Consulting, the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, and Dairy Farmers of Ontario. The two-year project will also receive up to $260,000 in funding from the Canadian Agricultural Partnership (the Partnership), a federal-provincial-territorial initiative. The goal is to understand and educate producers and veterinarians on calf management and best practices, with particular emphasis on providing veterinarians with tools and resources to work more effectively with their clients.

“Our government is committed to helping our farmers save time and money as they work to build their businesses and to produce the safe, high-quality food that they are known for,” said Ernie Hardeman, Ontario’s Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs. “This project will enhance efforts to improve animal health in the province and to keep Ontario’s agricultural sector open for business.”

Some of the specific objectives of this initiative include:

  • Understanding the challenges Ontario producers have with calf health
  • Reviewing what Ontario veterinarians are doing well and what more they need to help them prioritize calf health
  • Creating educational resources on calf health management, including protocols, guidelines, and a review of current science and best management practices
  • Developing a website platform to share everything you need to know about calf health and welfare in one central place
  • Publishing an update of VFO’s Building the foundation for healthy calves manual, first developed by VFO in 2004 as a guide of calf management essentials for producers
  • Holding regional workshops for veterinarians on how to work with producers to improve calf health

While this project is ongoing, there are several important highlights to share. After a number of focus groups and interviews with producers and veterinarians, it is clear that producers would like more veterinarian involvement in calf health management. Not all veterinarians make calf health part of their routine visits. A change in mindset from only working with calves when there is a problem, to routine assessments for disease prevention and early identification of issues, is needed. Producers highlighted pneumonia as the biggest challenge for their calves. Many also suggested that colostrum management remains one of the most important practices for success, and it is still something many people struggle with. Some veterinarians indicated they have a hard time motivating some clients to adopt calf health recommendations – a concern that may lead some to stop trying if they don’t see action. Both producers and veterinarians appear to need more and easier access to sources of information on how to better manage calves. More work also needs to be done to support communication between them – a particular area the CHIP project is focused on!

This month also marks the release of a fresh new look for www.calfcare.ca. CalfCare.ca is an online toolbox created by VFO for producers and industry professionals navigating challenges with calf health, welfare, and nutrition. This website provides relevant and timely information that will help continuously improve the care of all calves. A portal for veterinarians, complete with summaries of the current science on all aspects of calf care, evidence-based recommendations for treating common conditions, and tips for building calf health into a routine herd health program, is a new part of the refresh of this website.

The next phase of this project involves taking these new tools and ideas on the road. ACER Consulting will be holding regional workshops with veterinarians across Ontario to discuss calf health management. The goal is to connect with as many veterinarians as possible to help raise awareness of the CHIP resources, promote better veterinarian-client-patient relationships, and encourage a renewed focus on consistent calf health management.

VFO’s Building the foundation for healthy calves guide has been updated to provide calf managers with a producer-friendly resource that reflects the latest science-based calf care recommendations in the corresponding vet portal. Follow the VFO on Facebook @CalfCareCorner and twitter @CalfCareCorner to learn more about when this resource will be available.

The CHIP project is all about helping producers get calves off to a healthy start. It’s a strategic focus on maximizing calf health in Ontario to build healthy and productive herds while ensuring all calves receive the same high standard of care, regardless of gender. Check out www.calfcare.ca for more information.

 

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