Colostrum Management in Dairy Calves
Failure to take in a sufficient amount of good quality colostrum is major risk factor which can lead to death and disease in young calves. This first feed contains important antibodies or immunoglobulins necessary to provide the calf with protection from disease. The most common conditions encountered from lack of colostrum are septicaemia and diarrhoea.
It is essential that the newborn calf receives 6 pints of good quality colostrum within 6 hours of birth.
Studies have shown that 32% of dairy calves failed to suck their mother within 6 hours of birth and 61% of calves left to suck their mother failed to take in adequate amounts of colostrum.
The most reliable method of ensuring that a calf has ingested a sufficient volume of colostrum is to administer 6 pints of colostrum as soon as possible after birth using an oesophageal feeder.
Colostrum quality is measured in terms of its immunoglobulin content which can be highly variable in dairy cattle. Higher yielding cows tend to produce poorer quality colostrum due to a dilution effect. Heifer colostrum is frequently of a lower quality as is any cow which has been pre-milked or suffered milk leakage.
Freezing some good colostrum, in 6 pint amounts, is a good idea as it means there is some on standby for any calves where the quality of the colostrum is suspect. Colostrum can be stored frozen for up to a year with no loss of quality. Frozen colostrum should be thawed slowly in warm water to prevent it being damaged.
The major source of pathogens for the calf is its mother. Once the colostrum has been fed removing the calf from its mother to an individual pen will reduce the risk of disease.
Calf diarrhoea usually starts 5-7 days after birth because not only is there a decline in the secretion of antibodies from the calf back into the gut but there is also a reduction in the antibody levels in the mothers milk. It is possible to maintain antibody concentrations within the gut and have a significant scour prevention benefit by prolonging the feeding of colostrum.
The colostrum can be stored in a lidded bin such as plastic dustbin at room temperature where it will gradually acidify. This soured colostrum is then fed back to the calves for three weeks until the main risk period for scours has passed.
The protective effect of this stored colostrum can be further improved by vaccinating the cow in late pregnancy using one of the vaccines against rotavirus, coronavirus and E coli K99 such as Rotavec-corona.
Please note if you are trying to control or eradicate Johnes disease from your herd then there is the potential to spread infection by feeding pooled colostrum. Discuss with your vet about the relative risks involved.