Wednesday 28 September 2016

Brief window to get colostrum into calves to provide early immunity

Mary Kinston

Published 23/01/2013 | 06:00

Calves are born without any antibodies and rely on good quality colostrum to ensure early immunity against disease.

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There is a brief but critical window in which they must receive colostrum for effective disease prevention.

Therefore good colostrum intake is the first and most essential step to provide a new-born calf with good immunity.

Remember the '1-2-3' rules for colostrum feeding:

1.Use the colostrum from the first milking.

2.Give colostrum within two hours of birth.

3.Give at least three litres.

Using colostrum from the first milking is an essential step in ensuring calf health.

It's also interesting to note that older cows also produce better colostrum than heifers, as their colostrum contains more antibodies.

However, the pooling of colostrum is not recommended due to the risk of contracting infections such as Johne's disease.

Thin cows produce poorer quality colostrum, which may be something to consider this year.

The use of dry cow therapy does not affect colostrum quality, providing the withholding period has been met, and mastitis colostrum and milk from cows being treated with antibiotics (while being withheld) should not be fed to calves.

When storing colostrum, make sure you refrigerate or freeze it immediately.

If freezing colostrum, make sure you thaw it slowly. Microwave thawing is not advised.

Housing and management

To prevent diarrhoea and scouring in calves, good hygiene and vaccination, where appropriate, are invaluable.

However, the supply of some vaccines such as Rotovac and Trivactin 6 have been limited recently, so don't delay on ordering these.

Removing the calf from the cow immediately after birth to a clean individual calf pen or hutch can minimise the chance of infection. Dipping the navel cord in an antiseptic solution will aid in preventing navel ill.

When feeding calves, the advice is now to feed at least 13-15pc of each calf's birthweight in whole milk or high quality milk replacer.

For a birthweight of 37-40kg, this would equate to a minimum of five litres per day up to day five, and six litres thereafter. Further information can be found from handouts provided by Animal Health Ireland (AHI) on calf care.

Disease and parasite control

Remember that from January 1 this year it is compulsory to test every calf in Ireland for the BVD virus. Take the sample as soon as you can after the calf is dry.

In order to make this an easy process, make sure you have envelopes labelled with the address of where you will test your samples ready before the season begins.

More information can be found on the AHI website at

Finally, as dairy calves are also exposed to infection as soon as they are turned out, remember to dose them in the first three weeks of grazing.

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