Looking after the babies of any species is a specialist job that requires utmost care and attention at all times, and dairy calves are no different.

As soon as they are born, their life is in your hands with their health, nutrition and overall well-being pretty much dependant not only on the type of feeding provided, but also the overall hygiene and condition of their surroundings, from day one.

It’s one aspect of dairy farming that Brian Kerr, Helenton Mains, Symington, pays particularly close attention to and one which he is undoubtedly reaping the rewards of having significantly reduced mortality rates in recent years.

“We’ve only lost six calves in the last five years and only one in the past 24 months,” said Brian who runs the 175-cow Helenton Holstein herd in Ayrshire, with assistance from Dom McAvoy, who attends to the calves.

“We have had a bit of bother with pneumonia and calf scours and in the past but since we changed our calf milk powder to Buitelaar’s Heifer 100 and started using Al-protect it has been significantly reduced,” said Brian.

Al-protect, a natural, herbal product from Buitelaar which contains vitamins, selenium and iron to help protect calves against cryptosporidium and coccidiosis is initially given into the mouth as a 10ml dose after a calf has had it’s first colostrum, and administrated for the next week in 3ml doses.

“Al-protect definitely makes them drink and increases dry matter intakes and calves seem to grow faster with the Heifer 100 mix,” added Brian who said sterilising the calf bottles after every use and the teats of the automatic Volac feeder every second day has significantly bolstered calf health too.

“In the past couple of years we have seen the odd calf with a wet tail, but since we started sterilising the teats and the bottles we rarely get that problem. The calves are definitely a lot healthier for it and we reduced our use of antibiotics as a result. Our antibiotic usage on the calves has been gone down 40% over the past year,” said Brian.

All calves born at Helenton Mains are initially given a 2.5litre feed of it’s mother’s colostrum and bottle fed another three times with colostrum – either fresh or frozen – in individual pens. From there, they are bottle fed with Buitelaar Heifer 100 calf milk for the next few days before being trained onto the milk machine.

And, with the milk powder comprising 100% dairy milk protein, the concentration can be increased in particularly cold weather for extra energy, thereby reducing the need for calf jackets.

Calves are also given a Rispoval Intranasal vaccine to protect them against pneumonia at nine days of age.

Mucking out and disinfecting both the individual calf pens and group pens between calves and batches has also proven key to reducing disease issues, while providing the most appetising diet, has helped to increase daily liveweights.

Calves in group pens are weaned at 70days of age but they have access to an ad-lib Harbro calf starter feed, straw and water up until seven-eight months of age when they are then introduced to a TMR comprising 1.5kg chopped straw, 2kg supergrains, 1.25kg of crimped barley, 2.5kg of wholecrop, 18kg of fourth cut silage and minerals.

Such has been the improved performance, that the farm’s black and white calves will gain 1.1kg per head per day from four weeks of age, thereby enabling them to be bulled at 13-14months of age, and calved at 24months.

All bull calves are sold through Liz Hoggarth, Scottish and North of England representative for Buitelaar, which is now taking large numbers of dairy calves in Lanarkshire as well as throughout much of the south west and east of Scotland.