Vet’s Voice: Be sure your babies get good colostrum
January 14, 2016
The cold weather has finally reached the northern plains. Hopefully we won't be in the deep freeze for a long time. I do remember a January many years ago when the temperature rarely climbed above zero. Make sure your cows have adequate energy and water during the chilly weather. It will really help the cows maintain their body temperatures. Some of you have started calving. We must understand how we can keep the young calves from chilling while they receive adequate colostrum for future immunity.
The timely consumption of colostrum, first milk, is the most important event in a calf's life time. The calf is born with only enough energy stores to survive in normal temperature conditions for several days. In extreme cold energy stores may become depleted within a few hours. Colostrum provides the supplemental energy needed to keep the calf viable and healthy.
Most of us think of colostrum as the means of transferring immunity from the dam to the calf. The calf's intestine is able to absorb immunoglobulins shortly after birth. Absorption decreases as the calf increases in age and by twelve hours of age, immunity will be compromised if the calf has not suckled colostrum.
The quality of colostrum is also important. Heifers' colostrum is generally of lower quality than cows.' The quality is a result of organisms the dam has encountered on the farm or ranch. If you purchase cows or heifers they may not have immunoglobulins in their colostrum for the organisms normally found on your ranch. Quality can be greatly enhanced through timely vaccination.
The amount of immunoglobulins in colostrum is directly proportional to the amount circulating in the cow's blood stream. The antibodies begin to pool in the udder approximately sixty days before birth. This means the cow needs to be vaccinated at least ninety days before birth for maximum quality.
Many of you have used or purchased colostrum from area dairies. Holstein colostrum is usually less concentrated than beef colostrum, and some dairy men save the colostrum for several days which reduces its quality. The other problem with this method is disease. If you heat the colostrum to a point where contaminants are eliminated, the immunoglobulins are also destroyed.
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We now have powdered products used to both replace and supplement colostrum. Check the labels closely on the products you choose. Early products were made of blood serum collected at slaughter. These products contained immunoglobulins, but were not as readily absorbed as milk products. They also don't have as much energy as milk products.
Now we have new products which are manufactured from colostrum collected from dairies. This product is pasteurized by a special process which removes pathogens without damaging colostral quality. Another factor to remember is the cows are immune to many other pathogens and pass them in their colostrum. These products are also easier to mix and will keep for a day or two in the refrigerator after mixing.
A colostrum replacer is made to totally replace the cow's colostrum. Many dairies remove the calf immediately after birth. These calves are then fed colostrum replacer. We recommend replacer on calves which are chilled, had a difficult birth, or have had problems suckling the dam. You must make a determination on the status of the calf within the first 8 to 12 hours of life. Supplements are formulated with less concentration of immunoglobulins and are formulated to supplement the colostrum produced by the dam. Some producers administer a bag of supplement to every heifer's calf after it has suckled. Calves from weak unthrifty cows and calves from the cows with udder problems are also prime candidates for supplements.
With colostrum products you usually get what you pay for, more expensive is better quality. Consult with your extension specialist, veterinarian, or feed consultant to develop a program and protocol to assure maximum colostrum uptake in your herd. It will result in higher efficiencies and profits throughout your calves' life.
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