Colostrum the key to healthy calves

A couple of weeks ago we talked about colostrum on our series everything livestock which can be checked here.Today, I would like to quickly do a comprehensive look on ”Colostrum the key to healthy calves” .

The poor understanding of colostrum and its management can expose newborn calves to pathogens that cause scours, such as rotavirus which in most cases the diseases can kill them.

Colostrum is produced in the first milking and this contains the highest levels of protective antibodies that calves need in their first hours of life to build immunity to bugs like rotavirus.

The milk that flows after the colostrum milk is called the transition milk, this milk can be fed to growing calves but it does not have the same level of antibodies as the colostrum.

Factors such as poor body condition in cows, a short dry period, leaking milk before parturition, age, breed and timing of calf pickups all influence the quality of the colostrum that’s produced.

The quality of colostrum from a cow declines very quickly after birth, so the more regular the pickups during calving – preferably twice daily – the more likely you are to collect good colostrum.

While good colostrum management is at the heart of a successful calf rearing system, several other factors play an important part since calves are exposed to pathogens challenges from the moment of birth and this should be minimised.

This starts with the cleanliness of the truck used to pick up the calves or the veterinary doctor that helped in the calving process and follows through to the pens in which they are raised.

“Solid partitions between pens will help reduce the transfer of pathogens, and good bedding is essential; sawdust or woodchips are ideal, at least 15cm deep and over good drainage.”

A good feeding system will ensure proper growth and gut development following the crucial first few hours.

Clean water and a good starter feed are also part of the management mix.

The calf pens should be an all-in–all-out system: once a calf enters a pen it should remain there until it moves outside.
“Calves should not be moving between pens as they get older, as this is a great way to spread bugs around.”

Pens should be well cleaned out after the last calf has left for the season, and contaminated bedding needs to be removed and the flooring and walls should be clean and dry before a disinfectant is used.”
“So give calves the best possible start with high-quality colostrum, preferably from vaccinated cows that will pass on good levels of immunity”.