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Are your dairy calves getting the best start?

Are your dairy calves getting the best start?


Kathryn Sigvertsen 

Colostrum is the valuable first milk from the cow developed over the dry period.  It is absolutely critical that calves receive colostrum to provide passive immunity, as they are unable to produce their own immunity until they are 3-4 weeks of age. Without colostrum, calves are open to any and all diseases that may come their way, are more likely to grow slowly, and are more likely to die prematurely.

There are three key points that ensure adequate transfer of immunity through colostrum:

1)      Quantity – a calf must receive 10-15% of their bodyweight in colostrum

2)      Quickly – the ability to absorb antibodies from that colostrum (vital for immunity) drops rapidly to zero absorption by 24 hours from birth

3)      Quality – testing colostrum for its quality is quick and easy with a Brix refractometer, and is done at the point of first milking. Brix readings over 22% are considered adequate. Many factors contribute to quality, including cleanliness.

But even if you are doing all these things, how do you know the calves are actually getting enough immunity?  By testing them of course!  Blood tests done on farm are an excellent indicator of how well your protocols are working. This involves taking samples from 12 healthy calves, between 24 hours and 7 days of age.  If all the results are in the desired range, your calves are off to a great start.  If the bloods show failure of passive transfer (FPT), we can work out a plan with you to improve the systems and test new calves the next week to see how the improvements are working.

If you are pretty sure you are doing everything right, getting some bloods done will show how well you really are doing.  If you are selling young calves for others to rear, having proof of colostrum feeding and passive transfer of immunity will be a great endorsement to your farming practices and can offer a point of difference that will be valuable for the buyer.  If you happen to be the buyer, requesting results of this sort of test will prove that the seller is doing the best for those calves.

Contact your vet to arrange for blood testing to be done and improve your calf health this season!


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