There are many tools and techniques available to help monitor health and performance. Undertaking some form of measurement is essential to pick up any changes. The most appropriate monitoring approach will depend on the type of farm and systems in place. To get the best from it, any monitoring should be implemented consistently and the data collected used to continually review performance making adjustments when necessary.

Approaches and tools that can be used include:

Standard monitoring:

  • IgG levels as an indicator of the efficiency of colostrum management

  • Growth rates

  • Incidence of disease

  • Treatment rates

  • Mortality

Others that are worth considering:

Nesting score - an assessment of bedding depth. A calf that can nest effectively will be better able to remain within its ideal temperature range. Deep bedding will also redue exposure to scour pathogens shed in faeces. These factors contribute to reduced susceptibility to disease.

Air temperature - this should be taken at different points in the shed as microclimates may be present within calf pens. Calves under a week of age need ambient temperatures of over 7 °C, but they become more tolerant of lower temperatures as they get older1.

Calf temperature - the normal range is 37.8 - 38.2 °C. A persistent raised temperature may be a sign of infection, specifically BRD. Ear mounted temperature monitoring devices, that flash to provide a visual alert when a calf experiences a prolonged fever, can give an early indication of BRD or other causes of ill health.

Calf scoring - a number of tools are available that can be utilised to routinely assess the health status of calves during the pre-weaning period.

The Wisconsin Calf Health Scoring Guide is a tool for accessing calf health that uses observations of a wide range of factors to determine individual calf health status https://www.vetmed.wisc.edu/dms/fapm/fapmtools/8calf/calf_health_scoring_chart.pdf .

The California bovine respiratory disease scoring system for pre-weaned dairy calves is a simplified tool designed to detect BRD.
http://www.vmtrc.ucdavis.edu/local_resources/pdfs/BRDscoring system chart logosv14.pdf

Both of these are also available as apps.

  1. 1 NADIS, Calf Housing http://www.nadis.org.uk/disease-a-z/cattle/calf-housing/
  2. 2 Webster, A. J. F. (1974). Heat loss from cattle with particular emphasis on the effects of cold. p.205 in J. L. Montheit and L. E. Mount, eds., Heat Loss from Animals and Man. Butterworth, London