Friday, November 7, 2014

Even Calves Receiving Adequate Colostrum Can Benefit from Feeding Transition Milk

In a recently published article [M. Conneely and Others, "Effect of feeding colostrum at different volumes and subsequent number of transition milk feeds on the serum immunoglobulin G concentration and health status of dairy calves." Journal of Dairy Science, November 2014 97:6991-7000] the authors compared three feeding strategies for transition milk.

They used pooled second milking from the freshly calved cows for transition milk. It was fed at the rate of 2L (2.1 qts.) per feeding. The alternatives were
(1) No transition milk fed,
(2) 2 feedings of this milk at 8:00 and 15:00 hours, and
(3) 4 feedings of this milk at same times.
Recall that book value for 2nd milking fat is 5.4% - or about 36% fat - high energy stuff.

All the calves were fed very high quality colostrum within 2 hours after birth and received at least 300g of IgG. Blood serum IgG values were screaming high - all over 3000mg/dL. So, immunity levels were more than adequate at 24 hours.

Then, they fed transition milk either 2 or 4 more feedings.

Health of calves?

They used the health scoring system designed by McGuirk (click HERE to see this chart, be sure to scroll to second page for picture guide for scoring).

1. "Feeding the transition milk had no effect on the likelihood of being assigned a worse fecal score throughout the study period." p,6999

2. Feeding the transition milk ... "lowered the likelihood of being assigned a worse eye/ear and nasal score during the study period" p6999

During a much less well-designed trial that included about 1,500 calves while I was managing calves at Noblehurst Dairy I fed transition milk (2nd, 3rd, and 4th milking pooled fed within 30 minutes of collection) milk to all the youngest calves for about the first 7 days of life. In all the twelve years at this facility I never had lower scours and pneumonia treatment rates than when I fed transition milk. Completely undocumented, however, for these calves was their immune status - no blood serum total protein values. Compared to the research reported here I am certain not many of our calves had immunity levels nearly as high as theirs.

One nice benefit of feeding transition milk is its high energy value. Compared to feeding a 20% fat milk replacer my transition milk had about 75% more fat - thus, I was feeding not only the components unique to colostrum but also a lot more energy each feeding that first week.

Just a reminder, when feeding transition milk after the first day of life the antibodies are no longer absorbed into the calf's blood. The benefits from these antibodies are at the surface of the gut lining.

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