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When a calf is born it possesses no antibodies to fight disease. Consequently, the ingestion of plenty of good quality colostrum is the key to a calf's survival.
Good colostrum intakes mean:
- Fewer scour and other disease problems (such as pneumonia, salmonellosis and ringworm)
- Reduced death rates
- Better growth rates
- Improved milk production from female dairy calves in the long term
The golden rules of colostrum feeding: quantity, quality and quickly
Give a first feed of three litres or 10% of body weight. This should be followed up by another similar sized feed within 12 hours of birth.
Good quality colostrum contains at least 50 g/litre of IgG. You cannot tell the quality of colostrum just by looking at it – use a colostrometer or refractometer. Colostrum must be clean too. It can easily become a bacterial soup that do calves more harm than good, so either feed it immediately, refrigerate or freeze it.
Cows can be vaccinated pre-calving to boost colostral antibodies against rotavirus, coronavirus and E.coli K99.
Calves must receive their first colostrum feed as soon as possible after birth – ideally within two hours to optimise immunity, but at the latest within six hours. The efficiency of immunoglobulin absorption from colostrum declines rapidly from over 40% at birth to less than 5% by 20 hours after birth.
Calves left to suckle their dam are 2.4 times more likely to receive insufficient IgG2. Try using a nipple bottle to administer the first feed and consider feeding colostrum by stomach tube to make sure it receives the full three litres first feed.
1. T.Potter. Colostrum: getting the right start. Livestock Vol 16. September 2011