Heading into calving – prepare now
By almost every measure, this winter has been one of the tougher ones in recent memory. Extremely cold temperatures and severe wind chills have taken a toll on livestock and the people who care for them. As we head into the calving season, take time now to make plans to ensure calves get off to a good start and cows breed back in a timely manner.
If your cows have been on lower quality forage grazing programs (native range, stockpiled forages, corn residue) during the winter’s cold weather, they may have lost critical body condition. Extended periods of dormant season grazing may mean that mineral and vitamin nutrition were less than optimal. Cows need proper energy, protein, vitamin and mineral nutrition through calving season. Consequently, you should carefully evaluate your cow herd nutrition program at this time and make any necessary adjustments.
Spring officially starts on March 20, but we all know winter weather can last well into spring in the northern plains. A cold snap or severe winter storm well into April is not uncommon. It is important to have a plan in place to protect newborn calves when storms and snowfall happen unexpectedly. With calves selling for $1,000 or more in the fall, the financial stakes are very high for your operation.
Invariably, you are going to have newborn calves who need supplemental colostrum. Now is the time to develop a plan for managing colostrum during calving season.
Handling and storing colostrum
For optimum results, colostrum should be collected from cows within 24 hours of calving and fed fresh; however, colostrum can also be collected at calving, stored frozen, and used at a later date. To make storage and thawing easier, store colostrum in Ziploc® bags, Serving Savers®, or empty one-liter plastic soda or water bottles (leaving enough room for expansion). These types of containers are easy to store in the freezer and easy to label. They also make thawing individual servings of colostrum easier.
The antibodies and immunoglobulins in colostrum are protein and they can be damaged by excessive heat during thawing. It is important to thaw colostrum slowly to prevent the proteins from being damaged. Two suggested methods of thawing colostrum are:
• Place frozen colostrum and its container in warm water (110°F). Gently agitate or stir the colostrum every five minutes until the colostrum reaches 104 to 110°F.
• Place frozen colostrum and its container in a microwave oven. Set the microwave to no more than 60 percent power. Agitate or stir the colostrum frequently to insure even thawing and warming. This is important since many microwaves do not heat material evenly. Warm the colostrum to 104 to 110°F. Feeding cold colostrum costs the calf significant amounts of energy to raise the temperature of the ingested material to their body temperature. This is energy the calf cannot afford to lose at this stage of its life.
Frozen colostrum should not be thawed and refrozen because the proteins can be damaged in that process.
Commercial colostrum supplements
A number of commercial colostrum substitutes are available. Research studies on these products conducted at various universities have shown that calves that received these products were healthier than those that received no colostrum at all. It is important to remember that you generally get what you pay for with colostrum supplements. The extra cost for better quality supplements (with higher levels of immunoglobulins) will be money well spent.
Johne’s disease (Myobacterium paratuberculosis) can be spread to your herd through infected colostrum. If you are using supplemental colostrum from someone else’s herd, be sure the herd from which you got it has been tested and is free of Johne’s disease.
Good luck with calving. Don’t skimp on cow nutrition, especially in light of the cold weather and wind chills we have experienced so far. With good nutrition programs and good colostrum management, you will have healthier cows who give birth to more live calves for you to sell this fall; and that will be well worth the effort! F
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