Despite guidelines highlighting the importance of colostrum management, too many calves are still failing to receive good quality, clean colostrum.
Vet Dr Robert Hyde says research suggests one in five calves are not receiving adequate levels of immunity.
Dr Hyde is currently undertaking a three-year PhD research project in conjunction with AHDB, exploring factors affecting calf health and productivity on British dairy farms.
He says his research suggests that not enough is being done to maximise health and welfare, and the associated productivity of calves.
As part of the project, which involves 60 dairy farms in the UK, the quality of colostrum is being tested.
He says: “One in three of 680 samples failed for quality, and one in three of 270 samples were above the threshold for bacteria levels.”
He adds that changing the quality of colostrum is difficult, but it is important to know what the quality is in the first place. More should be fed if necessary in an attempt to make up for any shortfalls.
In terms of the high bacteria levels, this can lead to scours.
High levels of bacteria in the colostrum means the calves are not able to absorb enough of the good antibodies.
The PhD project also saw 280 calf blood samples done. Of those, one to two in every 10 failed. Dr Hyde says these blood tests are one of the most important tests to determine whether colostrum management is adequate. These should be carried out on a sample of calves under one week old. Dr Hyde says: “If this comes back showing there is a problem, then something can be done about it.”
Cleanliness of colostrum collection and feeding equipment was also monitored, and over half of the farms were cleaning equipment with cold water.
Rather than cold water, Dr Hyde recommends using ‘scalding hot’ water and hyperchlorite or peracitic acid.
“Everything that colostrum comes into contact with is a place that bacteria can be picked up,” he says.
“This means it is important to be really clean when it comes to colostrum collection and feeding.
“The same care and attention should go into colostrum collection, as goes into collection of milk for human consumption.”