The most important time of a newborn calf’s life is the first 24 hours, thus the significance of administering colostrum as soon as possible after birth. A good rule of thumb is “the sooner, the better.”
“Plenty of good, wholesome colostrum early in life can make a big difference in the life of a calf,” said Dr. Sam Leadley, Attica Veterinary Associates. “This is important not only for calf development, but for the rest of her productive life.”
Leadley offers these practical goals for colostrum management on commercial dairies:
- Collect colostrum as soon as practical after calving. The best colostrum is right after the calf is born.
- Keep colostrum pure. Clean teat ends, the collection bucket and nursing bottle.
- Feed colostrum within 30 minutes after collection (or, if stored, chilled to 60.8 degrees Fahrenheit (16 degrees Celsius) within 30 minutes after collection).
- Offer colostrum to calf as soon as possible after calving. Once she is breathing on her own and rolls on to her belly, she is ready to feed. Standing makes feeding easier.
- Provide high quality colostrum for the first feeding. A Brix refractometer or colostrometer will help sort out the best quality for first feedings.
- Feed enough colostrum to supply plenty of antibodies. An average size large breed calf needs four liters of average quality colostrum in the first four hours to promote adequate transfer of antibodies from dam to daughter.
- Monitor the effectiveness of colostrum management. Work with a herd veterinary surgeon to set up a monitoring program using blood sampling. Good management should give 90 percent of calves above 5.0 blood serum total protein and 75 percent of calves above 5.5 blood serum total protein.
“Life is not perfect. Many times we are not able to achieve these goals all the time,” Leadley said. “Think of all of these as ‘weak links’ in the chain of excellent quality colostrum management.”
Leadley said producers can promote better calf health by focusing on these weak links. Possible changes include:
- Improving stomach tube feeding skills – Request a teaching session from the farm’s veterinary surgeon for at least two employees on the dairy. For practical tips on using a stomach tube feeder, visit http://www.atticacows.com/documentView.asp?docID=3670.
- Checking colostrum cleanliness – Working with the farm’s veterinary surgeon, sample “as-fed” colostrum for laboratory bacteria culturing. If cleanliness might be compromised, consider adding a mannan oligosaccharide (for example, Bio-Mos®) at the rate of 30 grams/2 liters to help divert coliform bacteria from the gut. If bacterial contamination might be high, consider feeding a colostrum replacer.
- Checking the quality of colostrum - Remember that color and thickness of colostrum are unreliable indicators of quality. Purchase and use a Brix refractometer or colostrometer. In the absence of on-farm testing, assume that quality is lower than ideal. One easy fix is to feed a larger volume of clean colostrum. That is, rather than feeding one bottle (two liters) first feeding, offer the calf two bottles to see if she will drink more. Consider using a tube feeder to get at least three liters in the first feeding.
Calf health will be further discussed during Dairy: Today’s Greatest Business Opportunity, part of the Alltech REBELation, an event exploring innovation, inspiration and world-changing ideas in Lexington, Ky., USA, from May 16-20.