Monday, December 8, 2014

Calf Management Ideas from
2012 Alberta Calf Study

The study by Doepel and Bartier, University of Calgary, included 13 farms ranging size from 60 to 300 cows. The calves, 755 Holstein breed, were observed over the period from February through June.

First idea: Measure the quality of colostrum before feeding it. About 30 percent of the colostrum samples from the 13 farms were below the commonly accepted standard of 50g/L. Just feeding more low quality colostrum will not deliver the goods to newborn calves.

Second idea: When measuring colostrum quality with a Brix instrument, use at least 23 as the lower threshold for "good" quality, higher is better. My observation: when measuring colostrum quality with a Colostrometer when it is fresh from the dam ("harvest temperature") look for a reading as the lower threshold for "good" in the green range where the stem reads 70-80g/L.

Third idea: Forty-four percent of the 755 calves had passive transfer failure (defined as below 5.2g/dl blood serum total protein). Because this number is much higher than the 30 percent of low quality colostrum samples something else had to be going wrong in colostrum management on these farms. Remember that quality is only one leg on the three-leg stool supporting immunity - the other two legs are "quickly" and "quantity." Feed enough high quality colostrum as soon as practical after birth!

Fourth idea: Feed lots of colostrum. They found a direct relationship between volume of colostrum fed between 0 and 6 hours and the immunity level of calves. That is, 3 quarts of colostrum is better than 2 quarts. And, for colostrum fed between 6 and 12 hours the same connection is valid - feed more and get higher levels of immunity. 

Reference: Doepel, Lorraine and Amanda Bartier, "Colostrum Management and Factors Related to Poor Calf Immunity." Western Canadian Dairy Seminar, March 11-14, 2014. WCDA Advances in Dairy Technology 26:137-149.

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