Invest in the future of your herd by looking after the calves

Tshilidzi Matshidzula, an award-winning farmer, started with a herd of 47 dairy cows. Today he runs a successful commercial farm in the Eastern Cape with more than 1 000 cows in his herd. Angie Khumalo, presenter of Mzansi Wethu’s agricultural television show, African Farming, interviewed him to find out more.

Later in the episode Dr Thapelo Makae, Elanco Veterinarian, answered some of Khumalo’s questions during the studio interview.  

“It takes a lot of experience to run a commercial dairy farm, as you have to watch what you feed your cows, their bodies work hard to produce quality milk.”  

She wanted to know from Makae if he has any valuable tips for viewers inspired by what Matshidzula had achieved. 

“What a legend!” Makae noted. “Tshilidzi gives us a blueprint for how it should be done.”  

He said it is vital to make sure dairy cows are fed well and receive all the nutrients they need to produce high volumes of milk. It is also important to monitor dairy cows daily, as any issue can influence milk production. 

“When a cow is not well, especially dairy cows, milk production decreases,” he said. 

One of the most important aspects of managing a dairy herd, is to establish a good calf-rearing programme. It has the potential to create wealth and improve the quality of the animals in the herd. 

“The calves in your herd will be the replacements of your milk producing cows. If you look after them carefully, the foundation for a healthy and productive dairy herd is laid.” 

The calf-rearing period covers the first 12 weeks of a calf’s life. It includes looking after the various vital needs of calves, such as feeding, housing, husbandry and health management, and starts from the moment of their birth until they are young heifers ready to be integrated into the rest of the herd. 

Growth rates during the first 60 days of their lives determine their future production potential as dairy cows. A slow growth rate during this period cannot be fixed by speeding up growth later, therefore farmers should invest heavily in getting it right from the start, in order to reap the benefits of a profitable dairy farming operation. The one sure thing is that the first 10 to 12 weeks of a calf’s life have a profound impact on the following 18 months.  

For information: e-mail Dr Makae at

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