Agriculture and Farming Technology Updates

The Dairy Blueprint: Effective Strategies for Livestock Management

Key Strategies for Successful Dairy Farming


In India, livestock production and livestock management is a vital source of income for the rural areas. Small and marginal farmers and landless labourers own 70% of the livestock but control less than 30% of the land. Many of these livestock owners live below the poverty line. With its labour-intensive nature and consistent year-round demand, dairy farming is especially suited for small-scale operations. Additionally, animal husbandry offers significant employment opportunities for rural women, who comprise 70% of the dairy workforce, allowing them to contribute economically within their households.

Early Management: Care Of Newborn Calves

In livestock management, proper care of young calves is crucial for the success of any dairy farm. Providing optimal nutrition during the early stages promotes faster growth and earlier maturity. Calves should be reared with care to achieve significant weight gain, ideally reaching 70-75% of their mature body weight by puberty. Inadequate feeding can lead to delayed first calving and reduced overall productivity throughout their lifespan.

Immediately after birth, clean the calf’s nose and mouth of any mucus and phlegm. If the calf is not breathing, hold it by the rear legs and lift it with its head down, or use alternating chest compressions and relaxations to stimulate breathing. Dip the navel in tincture iodine and wipe the calf with a clean, coarse cloth to speed up drying. Remove all wet bedding from the cow pen and wash the cow’s udder with clean water and a dilute potassium permanganate solution. A healthy calf should stand and begin suckling within 30 minutes; if it does not, assistance should be provided to ensure it receives its first feeding. Normally, the meconium (dark material in the intestine of the unborn calf) is passed within 2 hours after the first feeding. If it does not pass, administer an enema with one and a half teaspoons of sodium bicarbonate in a litre of warm water. Proper livestock management practices ensure the health and productivity of calves, ultimately contributing to the success of the dairy farm.

Livestock Management Practices For Calves Up To 6 Months

  1. Water: Ensure fresh, clean water is always available to the calves. This is particularly important when transitioning from milk feeding to solid feed, as consistent hydration supports digestion and overall health.
  2. Feeding of Calves: Offer colostrum for the first 3 days, followed by milk for 3 to 4 weeks. Afterwards, introduce vegetable starches and sugars. Ensure feeding liquids are at room or body temperature, and maintain utensils in a clean, dry place.
  3. Water: Ensure calves have access to clean, fresh water at all times.
  4. Identification: Apply an identification mark, such as an ear tag or tattoo, to each calf. This practice is essential for keeping accurate records, monitoring growth and health, ensuring proper livestock feeding schedules, and facilitating effective management practices.
  5. Dehorning: Dehorn calves at 2-3 weeks of age. This procedure helps prevent injuries to other animals and handlers, and it should be done early to minimise stress and complications.
  6. Deworming of Calves: Administer the first dewormer dose within 5 to 6 days of birth, repeating every 45 days.
  7. Castration: Castrate bull calves at 2-3 months of age. This helps in managing the behaviour of male calves, reducing aggression, and making them easier to handle as they grow.
  8. Removal of Extra Teats: Monitor female calves for the presence of extra teats and remove them if necessary. This ensures proper udder development and prevents future milking issues or infections.
  9. Housing: Provide well-ventilated, well-lit, clean, dry pens with soft bedding. Preferably rear calves individually, if not possible, tie them properly for 15 to 20 minutes post-feeding. When housing calves, consider the following points to ensure their well-being:
  • Proximity: Calf pens should be close to the cow shed for easy access and management.
  • Sunlight and Ventilation: Pens should provide adequate sunlight and ventilation to maintain a healthy environment. The floors should be non-slippery to prevent injuries.
  • Grouping: After 6-8 weeks, group calves according to age and sex to facilitate appropriate feeding and socialisation.
  • Equipment: Ensure feed boxes and watering equipment are readily available in the pen to promote proper nutrition and hydration.


Floor Space Requirement For Calves

Age of calves (months)Covered area( m2)Open area(m2)No. of calves/pen
0-31.0224 / pen
3-61.5316/ pen

Feeding And Watering Space Requirements For Calves

Feeding space (cm)Watering space (cm)
50 / calf50 / calf

Feeding Schedule For Calves

Age of calfBody weight (kg)Quantity of milk(kg)ConcentratesGreen fodder
From birth to 4h week252.5Smaller rateSmaller rate
4 to 6th week303.050 to 100 gramsSmaller rate
6 to 8th week352.5100 to 250 grams500 grams
8 to 10th week402.0250 to 350 grams750 grams
10 to 12th week451.5350 to 500 grams1.0 kg
12 to 16th week50500 to 750 grams1.5 kg
16 to 20th week55750 to 1000 grams2 kg
20 to 24th week601 to 1.25 kg3 kg
6 to 9th month70 to 1001.25 to 1.5 kg5 to 8 kg
9 to 15th months100 to 1501.5 to 2.0 kg8 to 15 kg
15 to 20th month150 to 2002.00 to 2.25 kg15 to 20 kg
Above 20 months200 to 3002.25 to 2.50 kg20 to 25 kg


Precautions To Take For Calf Management

  • Calves should remain in the calf pen for at least 5 days after birth. The pen should be maintained in tidy condition, and free from debris, sharp objects, and stones. It’s advisable to position the pen in an elevated area to prevent waterlogging, ensuring proper aeration and providing adequate shade.
  • Before housing the calves, the calf pen and shed should be thoroughly cleaned using a high-quality disinfectant at the correct dilution. Both areas should be properly dried before the calves are introduced.
  • Regularly whitewash the calf pen, shed, and water troughs with lime to maintain cleanliness and hygiene.
  • To prevent tick and lice infestation in calves, apply ectoparasiticides or organophosphorus agents by spraying the calf pen and shed as necessary.
  • Immediately after birth, clear the nostrils and mouth of the calf from any mucus to ensure unobstructed breathing.
  • Give the calf a full-body cleaning, including massaging or gently pressing the chest to stimulate respiration.

Care and Management Of Heifer

  • From 10 months onward, monitor heifers’ body weight gain regularly.
  • Exotic breeds should reach a breeding weight of 250-300 kg by 12-14 months, while crossbreeds should achieve this by 18 months.
  • Feed heifers a balanced diet of high-quality concentrate, mineral supplements, and a mix of green and dry fodder as per the feeding schedule.
  • Inferior growth rates, especially in indoor-raised calves, are common between 10-18 months.
  • Heifers aged 10-16 months increasingly rely on pasture and silage for forage but still require adequate nutrition for growth and reproduction.
  • Maintain a balance between growth and avoiding excessive fat deposition from 16 months until calving.
  • Provide roughage, grain, and minerals similar to dry cows for breeding heifers in the last two months of pregnancy.
  • Ensure proper housing with sufficient space and comfortable bedding for heifers, along with regular monitoring and treatment for parasites.
  • Vaccinate heifers against economically significant diseases prevalent in the area.
  • Consider culling heifers with low potential identified through visual appraisal or pedigree analysis at a younger age.
  • Perform routine management practices such as dehorning at 4 months and removing supernumerary teats by 8 months.
  • Ensure that the potential of heifers in the herd exceeds that of the lactating herd, as they represent the future productivity and improvement of the herd.

Dairy Cow Care and Management

Drying Off Process:

  • Animals with over 300 days in milk and more than 7 months (222 days) of pregnancy are selected for drying off.
  • Gradually reduce the milking frequency from twice to once a day, then every two days, three days, etc., until the udder shrinks. Teats are plugged with intra-mammary antibiotics.
  • Reduce the quantity of concentrate during the drying-off process.
  • Separate dry cows from lactating cows and provide them with a six to eight-week dry period.
  • If cows are in good condition, restrict energy intake to 85-90% of requirements during the dry period.
  • Per day, maintain calcium intake below 100 gms and phosphorus near 40 gms per, while providing Vitamin A, D, and trace minerals.
  • Deworm cows before calving or early lactation, and consider selenium supplementation to reduce the incidence of retained placenta.

Post-Calving Management:

  • Provide a clean, well-bedded area for calving and gradually increase grain intake post-calving at 1 kg per day.
  • Total mixed ration offers greater control of intake, ensuring forage-to-grain ratios don’t exceed 60% of the dry matter intake as concentrate.

Care and Management of Dry and Pregnant Animals

Pre-Partum Management:

  • About 10 days before calving, gradually transition pregnant cows’ diet to free-choice good quality hay and concentrate, aiming for a consumption rate equivalent to 1% of body weight per day at parturition.
  • Increase feeding levels to peak levels about three to four weeks after calving.
  • Each cow should be placed in a well-bedded maternity box stall for at least six days before calving.
  • Maternity pens should measure 12 feet square, providing a comfortable and safe environment for calving. This focus on pre-partum management minimises the incidence and severity of diseases associated with parturition.

Bulls and Bullocks: Effective Care and Handling

Efficient bull management encompasses maintaining optimal numbers of robust animals within your herd while prioritising heat stress reduction and injury prevention. Achieving the right balance hinges on factors such as herd size and the proportion of pregnant cows. A recommended guideline suggests one yearling bull for every 20 heifers. When selecting bulls, prioritise their health, age, stature, and demeanour. Sustain their well-being through proper conditioning before and during mating seasons, ensuring their dietary needs and physical condition are met. Regular monitoring and quarantine protocols are imperative for safeguarding herd health. Lastly, evaluating mating efficacy entails comparing anticipated and actual in-calf rates to gauge performance accurately.

Bull Management:

Effective bull management involves acclimating bulls to their new surroundings before mating, preceded by a thorough biosecurity quarantine process. Ideally, bulls should be introduced to the farm environment between two to three months and ten days before their scheduled work period. Implementing a rotational system, where bulls are divided into teams for alternating periods of rest and work, helps mitigate aggression and fighting among them.

Refining Bull Selection Criteria:

Ensuring bulls are both sexually mature and physically robust is essential for effective service. By 14–15 months, bulls should ideally attain 50% of their mature weight, progressing to 85% by the age of two. Prioritise the health of bulls and the entire herd by administering the same vaccination regimen as the heifers and cows. Collaborate with your veterinarian to establish a comprehensive drenching program.

Upon Arrival:

Upon the arrival of bulls, it is essential to conduct a comprehensive evaluation for any injuries incurred during transportation and to institute a 10-day quarantine period to monitor for indications of illness or irregularities in gait. Additionally, trimming hooves as required is crucial for maintaining optimal hoof health. Vigilance is advised in observing bulls for signs of aggression or “stalking” behaviour, particularly among Jersey bulls, as their temperament may render them unsuitable for integration with the milking herd. 

To enhance bull activity and mitigate health risks while bulls are with the herd, consider implementing various strategies.

Effective Bull Management Practices

  • Regularly monitor bulls during mating to ensure proper service. Promptly replace incapable bulls with more suitable ones.
  • Daily assessment for lameness is crucial. Remove lame bulls immediately and substitute them with healthy ones, as lameness can persist and impact sperm production for over a month.
  • Prevent bulls from accessing concrete milking yards to minimise hoof wear and lameness risks. Train bulls to stay in paddocks during milking sessions, using reflective tape or other markers for easy identification in low-light conditions. Training usually takes just two to three days.
  • In larger herds, drafting bulls from paddocks may be impractical, necessitating drafting at the dairy shed. Prepare extra bulls to replace those affected by lameness or to assist in moving cows through the race.
  • Prevent bulls from accessing concentrate rations, as this can disrupt rumen function, leading to illness and reduced fertility.

Assessing Bull Performance

  • Evaluate herd reproductive performance after the initial six weeks of mating, which typically represents the bull mating period.
  • Calculate the 6-week in-calf rate and not-in-calf rate for the herd.
  • Determine the total weeks of mating (artificial breeding period plus bull mating period).
  • Compare the actual not-in-calf rate with the expected rate for the herd. A higher-than-expected not-in-calf rate suggests suboptimal herd reproductive performance post-week six, possibly due to poor bull management.

Proper practices, from early calf management to the handling of bulls and heifers, ensure improved productivity and sustainability in dairy farming. By adhering to these guidelines, farmers can enhance animal health, optimise milk production, and contribute significantly to rural economies.

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