Interview: Fernando Soberon on colostrum protocols and nutritional inputs working in tandem

LifeStart sat down with Dr. Fernando Soberon, Technical Services Manager for Nutreco, Canada, to discuss the importance of two critical nutritional factors in the lives of young calves: colostrum and an elevated plane of nutrition.

In this, the second part of our two-part interview, Dr. Soberon explains that it's both colostrum protocols and nutritional inputs working in tandem that produce great gains in calf health and lifetime production.

LifeStart: Why do we need to have BOTH colostrum quantity and a higher plane of nutrition in milk feeding in order to achieve great gains? Why is one or the other not enough? How do they work in tandem?

Dr. Soberon: When proper amounts of colostrum are followed by limited quantities of nutrients, calves are not able to maximize the use of those limited nutrients for growth. Therefore, the systems that have been primed by the colostrum get turned off and not utilized during the pre-weaning phase. In a similar manner, when calves that did not receive proper colostrum are provided with good nutrition pre-weaning, the utilization of those nutrients is not as efficient. So, even though the calves will grow better than under a limited nutrition scenario, they will not maximize their potential and will have reduced feed efficiency compared to calves that had more colostrum. Most of the effects during early life are sequential and additive, therefore the effects can only be achieved during a specific window of opportunity. But, the positive effects could be lost later if proper management and nutrition do not follow. For the most positive effects from colostrum feeding, the most important time is during the first 2 hours after birth, but it is continuous during the first day. The second window of opportunity comes with the nutrient availability during the first month of life. If that window of opportunity is missed, there are no compensatory mechanisms for those effects.

LifeStart: What specific gains are we talking about? Health and growth? Amount of milk in 1st lactation? Amount of milk in subsequent lactations?

Dr. Soberon: When proper colostrum and liquid nutrition are provided to calves, the benefits are many. They include improved health, decreased morbidity and mortality and, most importantly, improved productivity. Pre-calving, productivity is measured through feed efficiency, growth and reproduction. Post calving, the major effect comes with increased milk production, increased component yield and an increase in survivability through the end of the 2nd lactation. Production increases (per lactation) reported in the literature range from 500 to 1,500 kg of milk, but a consistent association is that for every 100 grams of additional average daily gain pre-weaning, calves will produce 150 kg more milk during their 1st lactation.

LifeStart: Do you find that farmers are ready to up the level of colostrum and milk fed? Or, have you found some resistance to these ideas?

Dr. Soberon: The first adopters began adopting these theories almost 10 years ago. Back then, there were very few producers willing to make the investment. However, now we have not only the scientific evidence, but also a great number of producer testimonials from those who have experienced the benefits of providing better nutrition to their calves. Therefore, those producers that have not made the change tend to be more receptive of the idea. There are still a number of producers that believe the best way to raise a calf is the way their grandparents raised them, but there are fewer and fewer of them as time goes by as when they look over their shoulders and see their neighbours, they don't like to be left behind. Calves that get more colostrum and more nutrients consistently look better and show differences. Farmers catch on to that.

LifeStart: Is there anything else you feel needs to be said on this subject? Any other considerations in terms of the necessity of colostrum quantity and milk feeding?

Dr. Soberon: The more we understand the biology of newborn animals, the more we understand that colostrum is a must in the proper development of a mamma. That goes for every species, including humans and calves. Animals are capable of surviving without colostrum, but they lose an incredible amount of their potential. Nurturing during the first two months of life has proven to be eight times more important than nature, when it comes to 1st lactation milk production. And, we don't even know what it means for their subsequent offspring. In lambs there have been links made between new-born nutrition and the effects on their granddaughters, so it is not only important for the development of this generation, but it might have a post-generational effect.

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