fbpx
Print this page
Sunday, 23 June 2019 08:55

Follow the 3Q’s for colostrum management

Written by  Kim Kelly, regional technical advisor and vet with MSD Animal Health
Ensuring calves get enough colostrum early in life helps their health and productivity. Ensuring calves get enough colostrum early in life helps their health and productivity.

A new-born calf’s immune system is immature, so calves rely on antibodies in colostrum for protection while their own immune system matures.

About two thirds of calves in New Zealand don’t get enough good quality colostrum as new-borns (including calves left with their mothers for the first 24 hours of life), and this is an underlying cause of most scours outbreaks. You can figure out how well your farm is doing at managing colostrum by asking your vet to blood test around 10 healthy 2-7 day old calves.

After drinking colostrum, a new-born calf can absorb the antibodies directly from its gut into its bloodstream. The antibodies circulate in the calf for weeks to months while its own immune system matures. A good way to remember these colostrum management guidelines is to think of the 3 Q’s: Quickly, Quantity, Quality. Here’s some more information about each.

Quickly

A new-born calf’s gut allows the antibodies in colostrum to pass into the calf’s bloodstream; but by 12-24 hours old, it can’t absorb any at all. This change is called “gut closure”. So, enough colostrum must be fed quickly: in the first 12 hours of life. 

You can make sure calves get colostrum quickly by picking them up from the paddock twice a day, or more during bad weather. Bottle feed or tube every calf as soon as possible after pick-up, or in the paddock if you only pick up once a day. 

Quantity

To get enough antibodies into its blood, a calf needs to drink 10-15% of its body weight in decent quality colostrum before its gut closes. For most calves, that means 4-6 litres. Ideally, this should be delivered in two feeds a few hours apart, but if necessary, most calves can safely be tubed 3-4 litres of clean colostrum at once. 

Ensuring calves get enough colostrum early in life also influences their health and productivity all the way into their adult life! In a 2005 case study calves which received 4 litres of colostrum at birth gained 230g/day more live-weight, had 40% fewer veterinary costs, and yielded 9-13% more milk in their first lactation than calves which received 2 litres2 

Quality

Two factors determine colostrum quality: how clean it is, and how many antibodies it contains. 

The cleanliness of colostrum is important because bacteria can interfere with the calf’s ability to absorb antibodies, and they might make the calf sick before the antibodies have had a chance to work.

To get the most antibodies as possible into calves before their gut closes, only feed new-borns the highest antibody colostrum you’ve got. This will be from the first milking—the “gold” colostrum, since antibody levels drop at each milking after calving. 

But, since even “gold colostrum” varies in quality, it can be helpful to use a Brix refractometer to measure antibodies. “Good” colostrum measures 22% or more on Brix and contains the most antibodies. Fair colostrum measures 19-22%, and poor colostrum measures <19%. 

The amount of antibodies in colostrum is influenced by the way cows are managed before and after calving. Milking a cow right after calving will give you better colostrum than milking her 12 hours later. Cows which are well-fed before and after calving make better colostrum than poorly-fed animals. Lastly, the colostrum from animals vaccinated with scours vaccines, such as Rotavec® Corona, contain more antibodies than colostrum from unvaccinated cows3 (ref: Recca et al 2003). 

If you have enough “good” gold colostrum for new-borns, feed your poorer quality gold colostrum and all your transition milk to older calves. It’s still a great source of nutrition and it provides some short-term protection against scours-causing pathogens at the gut level. 

The logistics of colostrum management can be difficult when you have dozens of cows calving every day.   

But, keeping the 3 Q’s of colostrum management in mind, and spending extra time and effort on new-borns will help prevent headaches in the calf shed this season, and will pay you dividends in the long-run.

• Kim Kelly is a regional technical advisor and vet with MSD Animal Health.

For helpful videos and fact sheets which expand on the information in this article visit www.topfarmers.co.nz, a reference library of industry best practice for some key animal health management areas.

More like this

Strategy to reduce heifer mastitis

First calvers are more prone to mastitis than older cows. According to DairyNZ, farmers must choose a strategy that best suits their herd, farm team, and budget.

Managing first colostrum feed

Taking the NZ Launch Innovation award for their colostrum management system in the 2020 Fieldays Competition, Antahi Innovations were building on their previous winner the Trusti Tuber.

Featured

Dairy conversion - Otaki style

Near the Horowhenua town of Otaki, dairy conversion has taken on a whole new meaning. It’s not a case of converting sheep and beef farms to dairy farms, rather it’s a case of just converting old dairy sheds to country style tourist accommodation. Reporter Peter Burke visited two such conversions by two pretty special and creative women.

 

Bringing flat batteries to life

Given the absence of power outlets in many remote buildings on New Zealand farms, there’s every chance of ending up with a flat battery when away from civilisation for an extended period.

Kuhn bolsters mower range

Kuhn has bolstered its mower conditioner range with the addition of two rear mounted/ vertical folding models with a 3.10m working width.

2020 property market closes on a healthy note

Data release by the Real Estate Institute of New Zealand (REINZ) shows there were 175 more farm sales for the three months ending December 2020 than for the same period in 2019.

National

Expat workers ready for NZ

Dairy industry recruitment company Rural People Limited is seeing a huge increase in overseas interest to fill New Zealand farming…

Machinery & Products

Kubota ROPS tractors here

Kubota New Zealand product specialist Shaun Monteith says Rollover Protective Structure (ROPS) tractors make up 30% of all tractors in…