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Monday 5 December 2016

Colostrum vital in a calf's first hours

Published 18/01/2011 | 05:00

What about the feeding of colostrum? Do you want to reduce your pre-weaning mortality figures?

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At the Irish Grassland Association's Dairy Conference in Cork last week, Moorepark's Emer Kennedy said that colostrum management was the single most important management factor in determining calf health and survival.

A successful colostrum management programme requires you to consistently provide calves with a sufficient volume of high-quality, clean colostrum within the first few hours of life.

Absorption is greatest in a newborn calf's first few hours and starts to decline progressively after four to six hours, and ceases after 24 hours. The ideal source of colostrum is the calf's own dam.

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Ideally, calves should be given two to three litres of colostrum by oesophageal tube or nipple within four hours of birth, with a total of four litres in 12 hours.

Leaving calves to suckle colostrum from their dam is not recommended as there is no guarantee that they will have sufficient intake. There is also evidence to suggest that the concentration of antibodies in colostrum decreases by 3.7pc an hour after calving.

For how long should the calf be left with the cow?

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The calf is in a very vulnerable environment once it is born. All sorts of fluids are in the immediate environment and the calf is exposed to a severe challenge from pathogens.

I would suggest that the calf is removed from the cow after an hour and placed in an individual pen. There is evidence to suggest that subsequent calf health is better with less health problems.

After four days, the calf should be placed in a group pen and left with that group until weaned.

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