Vet’s Voice | TSLN.com

Vet’s Voice

Dave Barz, DVM

The warm weather has helped in our early calving activities. The mud is a little problem, but the warm temperatures seem to make the calves more vigorous. After being born alive, the most important action in a young calf’s life is suckling adequate colostrum.

Not all colostrum is created equal. Heifer’s first milk is generally of lower quality then that of cows. Heifers may also produce less colostrum than their older herd mates. Initially heifers may not “mother” as well as older cows, refusing to allow the calf to easily suckle. Pre-calving nutrition is very important in the formation of colostrum. The antibodies from the dam’s blood are transferred to the colostrum about one month before calving. The unborn calf is growing rapidly at this time. If the cow has inadequate nutrition or increased stress at that time, the quality of the colostrum will suffer decreasing the calf’s immunity no matter how much it suckles.

After birth the calf’s digestive tract is open to the absorption of antibody from the colostrum. Over time this transfer mechanism closes. If not enough antibody is transferred to the calf, it is considered to be failure of passive transfer (FPT). The levels can be tested in the calf’s blood. Calves with FPT are susceptible to calving pen diseases (pneumonia and scours) resulting in higher mortality rates. Recent lifelong experiments have exhibited FPT calves to have lower weaning weights than adequately immunized animals.

Last spring we treated about 700 calves four weeks of age or less at our clinic for calf hood diseases. We secured blood samples from these calves and monitored their serum protein levels. We were surprised to find that 95 percent of these calves had FPT. We cannot over emphasize how important that first few hours are to the remainder of the calf’s life. The best cow vaccination program to eliminate scours and other calf hood diseases is of little value if the calf has FPT. We often believe that if we are raising cattle known for good milking ability you should not worry about FPT. An experiment in a herd of purebred Angus cows which were individually penned and paired in the calving barn still had a substantial percentage of the calves exhibiting FPT.

The best way to assure FPT does not occur is:

1. Adequately vaccinate cows precalving.

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2. Assure cows are in good shape. a) Produce an aggressive calf. b) Produce adequate amounts of high quality colostrum.

3. Reduce stress at calving. a) Allow the cow and calf time to bond and suckle adequate colostrum. b) If weather is inclement provide a clean dry calving area with fresh bedding. c) Minimize exposure to mud, manure and standing water.

4. Supplement colostrum if needed in first 12 hours. a) Use fresh colostrum if possible. b) New commercial formulations have higher antibody levels. c) Some clients prefer colostrum tubes or boluses for supplementation.

Your veterinarian will be glad to assist you if you have questions on colostrum formation and uptake. The more successful the colostral uptake in the calf, the healthier the calf will be. Good management at birth will yield rewards throughout the calf’s life.

The warm weather has helped in our early calving activities. The mud is a little problem, but the warm temperatures seem to make the calves more vigorous. After being born alive, the most important action in a young calf’s life is suckling adequate colostrum.

Not all colostrum is created equal. Heifer’s first milk is generally of lower quality then that of cows. Heifers may also produce less colostrum than their older herd mates. Initially heifers may not “mother” as well as older cows, refusing to allow the calf to easily suckle. Pre-calving nutrition is very important in the formation of colostrum. The antibodies from the dam’s blood are transferred to the colostrum about one month before calving. The unborn calf is growing rapidly at this time. If the cow has inadequate nutrition or increased stress at that time, the quality of the colostrum will suffer decreasing the calf’s immunity no matter how much it suckles.

After birth the calf’s digestive tract is open to the absorption of antibody from the colostrum. Over time this transfer mechanism closes. If not enough antibody is transferred to the calf, it is considered to be failure of passive transfer (FPT). The levels can be tested in the calf’s blood. Calves with FPT are susceptible to calving pen diseases (pneumonia and scours) resulting in higher mortality rates. Recent lifelong experiments have exhibited FPT calves to have lower weaning weights than adequately immunized animals.

Last spring we treated about 700 calves four weeks of age or less at our clinic for calf hood diseases. We secured blood samples from these calves and monitored their serum protein levels. We were surprised to find that 95 percent of these calves had FPT. We cannot over emphasize how important that first few hours are to the remainder of the calf’s life. The best cow vaccination program to eliminate scours and other calf hood diseases is of little value if the calf has FPT. We often believe that if we are raising cattle known for good milking ability you should not worry about FPT. An experiment in a herd of purebred Angus cows which were individually penned and paired in the calving barn still had a substantial percentage of the calves exhibiting FPT.

The best way to assure FPT does not occur is:

1. Adequately vaccinate cows precalving.

2. Assure cows are in good shape. a) Produce an aggressive calf. b) Produce adequate amounts of high quality colostrum.

3. Reduce stress at calving. a) Allow the cow and calf time to bond and suckle adequate colostrum. b) If weather is inclement provide a clean dry calving area with fresh bedding. c) Minimize exposure to mud, manure and standing water.

4. Supplement colostrum if needed in first 12 hours. a) Use fresh colostrum if possible. b) New commercial formulations have higher antibody levels. c) Some clients prefer colostrum tubes or boluses for supplementation.

Your veterinarian will be glad to assist you if you have questions on colostrum formation and uptake. The more successful the colostral uptake in the calf, the healthier the calf will be. Good management at birth will yield rewards throughout the calf’s life.

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