Rip, mix and feed

March 10, 2010 09:38 AM

It sure beats milking a fresh heifer for the first time at 2 a.m. Colostrum replacer, though pricey at $20 to $25 or more for 2 qt., offers convenience and, more importantly, passive immunity for newborn calves.

"It's so easy and simple. You grab a package, mix it up and feed it,” says Mark Brown, who milks 60 cows near Dodgeville, Wis. "We don't have to fire up the parlor for one cow if she calves in the middle of the night, and we don't have to thaw frozen colostrum if we don't get enough colostrum from a fresh heifer.”

Brown milks 30 Holsteins and 30 Jerseys, all of which are registered. After reading about colostrum replacers two years ago, he decided to give them a try. "Our Jersey calves would often scour seven to 10 days after birth,” he says.

The colostrum replacer has almost eliminated the scours in these calves, Brown says. "So if you subtract the $6 or more we were spending on scour treatments, it doesn't make the price of the colostrum replacer look so bad,” he says.

Brown sells all his Holstein bulls to a neighbor, who says he also noticed a difference. "He offered to pay me $20 more per bull calf if we used the colostrum replacer because he noticed a difference [in the calves] right away,” Brown says.

Cal Greenfield, who milks more than 500 cows with his brother Rick and nephew Loren near Markesan, Wis., has been using colostrum replacer on a more limited basis. Because of the cost, he only uses the replacer on calves that are born to Johne's-positive cows.

The ease of use often tempts him to use more. "My brother takes care of the calves at his place, and we have to walk the fresh cows up to the parlor for milking,” he says. Then they have to bring the colostrum back down to where the calves are.

Using colostrum replacer would be a lot more convenient, he says. "You mix it up, give it to the calf and you're done,” he says.

Sandra Godden, a University of Minnesota veterinarian, has conducted research on several of the colostrum replacer products and agrees that they have their place. "But if I have enough volume of high-quality, clean maternal colostrum available, it would still be my first choice,” she says.

If you don't have a back-up supply of fresh or frozen colostrum, there are a number of reasons to use colostrum replacers, including:

•  When the fresh heifer or cow doesn't produce 4 qt. of colostrum.

•  When you can't milk the cow until six to eight hours after calving, since calves need to receive colostrum within an hour or two of birth.

•  If the cow has tested positive for Johne's disease.

The goal of feeding colostrum, whether it's from the calf's dam or from a replacer, is to ensure the calf receives enough passive immunity to ward off infections until her own immune system kicks in. To achieve that, the calf needs to have a serum immunoglobulin (IgG) concentration of more than 10 mg/ml.

"Most commercial colostrum replacers contain 100 to 125 g. IgG per dose,” she says. Godden's research and other publications suggest that feeding one dose of replacer will be roughly equal to feeding 2 qt. of high-quality colostrum.

But that assumes the calf will have minimal stress, excellent nutrition and low pathogen exposure. "For producers who want to further improve the calf's immune status, I would recommend feeding two doses of the colostrum replacer,” she says.

That more closely approximates the IgGs in 4 qt. of colostrum that is currently recommended for Holstein calves. "Given the value of a calf, if they were my calves, I'd feed two doses,” Godden says.

Also be sure to follow label directions when mixing the colostrum replacer as they differ by brand. The replacers can be fed with a nipple bottle or through a feeding tube, if the latter is required.

Godden also cautions against confusing colostrum replacers with colostrum supplements. "The supplements typically contain less than 50 g. of IgG per dose and no nutrient pack, and are only meant to extend or supplement existing maternal colostrum,” she says.

If not cared for, calves have little chance to become productive. "If a producer feeds only a colostrum supplement with no maternal colostrum, then that calf is almost guaranteed to have failure of passive transfer of immunity and will be at significantly higher risk for disease events,” she says.
To properly evaluate colostrum replacers, calves should be compared on pre-weaning health such as treatments used and mortality risk. "Most studies enroll too few calves to properly evaluate health outcomes,” Godden says.

No studies have been published on the long-term health, productivity or cost-benefit of using these products. "This will require following animals into adulthood to measure risk for Johne's disease infection, longevity and lifetime milk production in the herd,” she says.

"We are one year away from completing such a study—fed either a commercial colostrum replacer or maternal colostrum—from birth to five years of age.”

Easy does it
•  One package of colostrum replacer provides 100 to 125 g. IgG, equivalent to 2 qt. of high-quality colostrum.
•  For Holstein calves, two packets in the first 12 hours are recommended.
•  Each packet costs $20 to $25 or more.

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