What specific on-farm management steps can dairy producers take to ensure the best possible conditions for pre-weaned calves that lead to better long-term health, growth and performance?
In our look at the 5 Critical Control Points of calf rearing, we now turn to Control Point 1: Colostrum. What quality, quantity and timing are required?
Why is quality colostrum important?
As calves are born without immunity, they rely on the immunoglobulins (IgG's) they absorb from colostrum for protection from illness and disease, while their own immune systems begin to develop. Good, quality colostrum contains at least 50g of IgG per litre to help calves fight bacteria, viruses and parasites, which are the common micro-organisms on-farm that cause scours and pneumonia.
If calves achieve higher than 10 mg/ml of blood serum IgG, then transfer of passive immunity through colostrum is successful. If calves do not receive the high-quality colostrum they need for protection from disease, and their serum IgG is lower than 10 mg/ml (known failure of passive transfer, or FPT), the results are poorer health, lower growth rates and, ultimately, higher mortality rates.
In addition to the critically important IgG's colostrum introduces into a calf's system, high quality colostrum is also quite nutrient dense. It contains about two times as much dry matter and five times as much protein as whole milk, and it has a higher fat and vitamin content, too. Colostrum is also rich in bioactive compounds which contribute to the quality of a calf's development, growth and performance, such as hormones and growth factors.
When and how much colostrum should be fed?
As the calf's ability to absorb the antibodies present in colostrum rapidly reduces within the first 24 hours of life, it is important to feed a good amount of high quality colostrum before this window narrows. Current LifeStart Program recommendations include an initial feeding of 3 to 4 litres of colostrum as soon as possible, preferably within one hour of birth. An additional 2 litres should be fed six hours later and, where possible, an additional 1 to 2 litres can be fed at twelve hours after birth.
Research has shown that feeding the right amount of high quality colostrum during the right time frame not only ensures better heath and growth for young calves, but, when coupled with a higher plane of nutrition pre-weaning, it also helps lead to better long-term performance and production.
Take a closer look the other Critical Control Points for effective management.
Timely feeding of the right quantity and quality of colostrum is essential for calves to reap the benefits of both IgG's and other vital colostral factors that positively affect their health, growth and long-term production. Proper colostrum management is just one of the ways that dairy farms can raise the bar for on-farm performance.