Working with a spring calving dairy client recently, the importance of colostrum management has become a major focus on farm due to increased health issues in new born calves. In previous years, the farm has relied on calves sucking dams to receive their required amount of colostrum to build up immunity (3l within 2 hrs). This, on the whole has always been effective as calves have been blood tested at 5 – 7 days to check antibody transfer, which has always shown positive results.
However, the cold weather and issues with increased pneumonia and scours in the first 1/3rd of calves born forced them to investigate. Total protein blood tests by their vet showed antibody levels were down and at a critical level in some calves, indicating they had not received sufficient good quality colostrum. Further investigation found the cold weather seemed to be preventing the calves lacking vigour to get going quickly when they were born and not suckling for long enough in the critical first few hours after birth. The farm immediately began testing the new calved heifers and cows’ colostrum, which routinely showed levels above 22% (22% = 50mg/ml IgG) using a Brix refractometer, which is deemed good quality to feed to calves. (The refractometer had been sitting on the office shelf for 2 years!)
A total change in policy now means all calves are either tubed or bottle fed 3 litres of colostrum within 2 hours of birth and the latest total protein blood samples show antibody levels in the calves have returned to normal. The farmer commented – ‘I think we’ve been getting away with a weakness in the system for a number of years. The issues we saw sometimes arise when the last few stragglers calve but never at the start of the block. Since changing the policy the calves haven’t looked back, despite the weather! We won’t be going back to our old method, the health of our next generation of heifers is paramount’.
Absorption of colostrum significantly reduces after 2 hours of birth –
For more information and to review your youngstock management, contact Andy at firstname.lastname@example.org or your local FCG office.