With calving season starting for some of our producers, it’s a good time to review some information to help you have a rewarding calving season and healthy calves. There are many factors that contribute to raising a healthy calf, many of which start before that calf even hits the ground.
Colostrum: The passive transfer of immunity!
4 Qs To Colostrum Management
Quickly – ASAP after birth: Newborn calves are born with immune systems that are not fully developed. They require antibodies from their mother’s colostrum to protect them until their own immune system is fully functional (around 1-2months of age). The calf’s gut is “open” to absorb these antibodies for about the first 24 hours of life, optimal absorption occurs during the first 4 hours with declines in absorption after 12 hours and minimal to no absorption after 24 hours.
Quality – Concentration of antibodies present in the colostrum (aim for 50g/L). Vaccination of the mother pre-calving can enhance antibody transfer into colostrum. The antibody transfer from the mother’s bloodstream into the colostrum occur over several weeks before calving therefore correctly following the recommended vaccination schedule is key. Remember even if it is the best quality colostrum, if the calf doesn’t consume it, it will not help.
Quantity – Calves should receive at minimum 100g of IgG (antibody). If milking out the mother, ensure to collect at least 2 liters for the first feeding. Repeat again in 4-6hours. If using powdered colostrum replacers identify if you are completely replacing (full IgG dose) or supplementing (partial IgG dose).
sQueeky Clean – Pathogen free (ex: Johne’s, salmonella) – know where you are sourcing your colostrum from. Mother is the best source of colostrum followed by colostrum saved from another cow on farm. Powdered colostrum can be used but identify how much antibody (IgG) is present per bag.
Clean & Dry – Decrease the infection load that each animal is exposed to. Both in the expecting pen and the nursery pen.
Space – helps spread out the environmental contamination (infection load). Allows more space for each pair to bond.
Facilities (Maternity pen, head gate, squeeze) – Allows a safer work environment for both cow, calf and producer when assistance is required. Clean and disinfect equipment (calving chains, calving jack, handles, etc.) between each cow.
Hospital Pen – Having the ability to separate out sick cows and/or calves from the rest of the herd can decrease the overall herd infection.
Nutrition – Sick calves cannot survive on electrolytes alone. They will need the energy from the milk in order to help fight off the infection
Life would be easier if we could control the weather, but we can’t. The large temperature fluctuations and extreme changes in weather (re: springtime in Saskatchewan)can be very stressful to the young calf. Stress can lead to increased susceptibility to disease.
Ways to combat our Saskatchewan spring:
- Calf shelters that can be easily moved,
- cleaned, and re-bedded.
- Wind breaks
- Clean bedding for the mothers – how dirty is the udder the calf needs to drink from?
Chilled calves are less likely to get up and nurse therefore are at greater risk for failure of passive transfer of those all-important maternal antibodies.
Calves less than 35OC will have a cold mouth and limbs, no suckle reflex, and won’t want to move. These calves will need to be tubed with warm colostrum (heat from inside out), moved into a warm room, or placed in a hotbox to be re-warmed.
Cutting the toe-off of an old wool sock with a little duct tape work great to help combat cold ears.
Vaccines are only one part of raising a healthy calf. They alone cannot protect the cow or calf from disease if faced with an overwhelming pathogen (bacteria/virus) load.
Talk to one of our veterinarians for a vaccination protocol specific for your herd.