Calving is just around the corner, so now is the time to make sure you have all the tools on hand for a successful calving season.
Your calving toolkit likely includes ear tags and tag markers, a calving book, and a calf puller and chains, but have you considered adding tools that will help you meet the nutritional needs of your newborn calves?
There are several tools you should have on hand to ensure every calf gets off to a healthy start.
Build their immunity
Colostrum – the first milk a cow produces after giving birth – is comprised of antibodies, growth factors, colostral fat, antimicrobials, nutrients and 200+ elements that are integral to giving your calves an optimal start. Colostrum is essential because calves are born with no natural immunity to the pathogens they may encounter. They don’t even begin to develop their own immune system until 4-6 weeks of age, so their early immunity is derived exclusively from the colostrum consumed in their first 24 hours of life.
That immunity primarily comes from immunoglobulin G (IgG) within colostrum. IgG molecules are readily absorbed for maximum immune protection; it is the antibody most effective in providing local immunity and reducing disease associated with failure of passive transfer.
Ensuring that a calf receives an adequate amount of quality colostrum during the first hours of life helps both optimize their growth and reduce negative heath incidences and veterinary care over their lifetime. In many normal calving situations, calves receive colostrum shortly after birth directly from their dam. However, in the case of first-calf heifers, heat or cold stress or difficult birth, the dam may not produce an adequate amount or the quality of colostrum to best meet the calf’s needs. Since the efficiency of immunoglobulin absorption in the gut is highest during the first 4 hours of a calf’s life and progressively declines after that, it is particularly important the calf receives a quality colostrum supplement during the first hours of life if there is doubt about the quantity or quality of colostrum from the dam.
To provide your calf with the highest amount of IgG absorption from a colostrum replacer or supplement, begin by evaluating its ingredient list. Look for a product that contains natural colostral fat, which is only found in pure bovine colostrum. Products made from blood serum or whey with added vegetable fats do not provide the same benefits as colostral fat when supplementing or replacing colostrum. Colostral fat is unique because it is the main nutrient that fuels immediate metabolism of brown fat to generate heat. Without colostral fat, a calf will deplete its body fat reserves within hours, heightening the risk of hypothermia. The amount of colostrum fed is positively correlated to heat production and body temperature regulation in newborn calves.
In addition, most colostrum products on the market have been stripped of many of the essential components that positively impact the calf’s health. To provide the greatest immunity and the highest quality colostrum, find a whole bovine colostrum – like our extensive SCCL colostrum lineup – that is USDA Vet Biologic certified, meaning it is tested against diseases including Johne’s and is regulated for quality.
The investment in a quality colostrum is an investment into the calf’s genetic potential. In one study, calves were given different volumes of colostrum at birth (as a percentage of their birth weight). Calves that received a higher volume of colostrum had higher average daily gains compared to calves the received a smaller volume of colostrum at birth (see Table 1).
Table 1. Growth and intake of dairy calves fed different volumes of colostrum at birth1
Give a get-up-and-go energy source
Calves born under less-than-ideal conditions (such as harsh weather, a hard pull or c-section, or a calf that is just slow to get up and nurse after birth) may need a quick energy boost to help them overcome stress.
In this case, consider adding a high calorie, colostrum-based paste to your calving toolkit, such as Push™ calf nutritional paste. This quick energy source helps calves metabolize brown fat tissue and thermoregulate their body temperature. Note that this energy source is not an alternative to colostrum; instead, it’s another tool to help calves with thermoregulation if they are chilled or born during harsh weather or stressful conditions.
Start with a healthy gut
Having a high quality direct-fed microbial (DFM) in your calving toolkit means you can help your calves combat harmful bacteria while establishing a healthy gut. DFMs that contain immunoglobulin G or Y (IgG or IgY) provide beneficial, health-promoting bacteria that attach to your calf’s intestinal lining and inhibit pathogenic (bad) bacteria colonization. Consider RumiLife® PopPlus™ DFMs for calves. Packed with purpose and combined with the power of IgY, these DFMs contain 26 billion CFU (colony forming units) of health-promoting bacteria and are sure to give your calves the power of prevention. Note this type of product aids in the immunity of a calf that has already received colostrum.
DFMs are useful beyond birth as well. As the weather warms, your calves may be exposed to new bacteria in their environment, and you may notice instances of scours (which can be caused by one or more of the following: rotavirus, coronavirus, BVD, coccidia or other parasites, E. coli, Salmonella or Clostridium perfringens). Provide DFMs to ensure good bacteria dominate their digestive tract.
Replenish their electrolytes
While you may not need it their first few days of life, having a calf electrolyte on hand is important. Electrolytes help to combat dehydration by replenishing lost fluids and electrolytes due to scouring. Some electrolyte products also offer benefits such as providing energy and helping to maintain normal rumen pH.
There are two types of electrolytes to choose from. Electrolytes that contain sodium bicarbonate should not be combined with anything other than water, otherwise intestinal upset can occur. This type of electrolyte generally cannot be fed within two hours of milk. If possible, choose electrolytes that contain sodium acetate which can be mixed with a colostrum replacer or whole milk and fed simultaneously. RumiLife® Calf Electrolyte not only contains sodium acetate but also glycine, a key amino acid vital for electrolyte absorption. Plus, the milk aroma encourages calves to drink it.
When calving season rolls around, the nutritional needs of a newborn calf may not be the first thing that comes to your mind. Yet, having products that support those needs readily available in your calving toolkit can lead to an easier calving season and help you get your calves off to a healthy start.
¹ Silva, F. L. M., Miqueo, E., Silva, M. D. da, Torrezan, T. M., Rocha, N. B., Salles, M. S. V., & Bittar, C. M. M. (2021, March 5). Thermoregulatory responses and performance of dairy calves fed different amounts of Colostrum. Animals : an open access journal from MDPI. Retrieved November 4, 2021, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8001325/.