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Survey flags colostrum as vital in rearing healthy calves

Maximising the genetic potential of your herd is reliant on piecing together every part of the calf rearing jigsaw; from breeding to colostrum, feeding, environment and health planning.

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Colostrum has been named as one of the most important factors when it comes to rearing healthy calves.
Colostrum has been named as one of the most important factors when it comes to rearing healthy calves.

All farmers know the importance of calf rearing, but are you really ticking all the boxes when it comes to maximising their potential? All participants in a recent social science PhD, carried out by Laura Palczynski at Harper Adams University, recognised the importance of colostrum in dairy calf rearing.

In fact, everyone named colostrum as one of the most important factors in rearing healthy calves.

However, knowledge of the three main ‘Qs’ of colostrum management: Quickly, Quantity and Quality, did not guarantee implementation.

Under the guidance of Dr Philip Robinson, Ms Palczynski interviewed 40 dairy farmers and advisers in England to understand what the barriers were to implementing best practice onfarm.

For instance, why was calf mortality higher than we would like, and why were farmers not always adhering to advice? Dr Robinson, who is now a senior lecturer in veterinary public health at the University of Glasgow Veterinary School, says colostrum management was one of the main areas flagged up.


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The 5 Qs of colostrum management

  • 1. Quickly: Speed of delivery to the calf is vital as the calf’s ability to absorb immunoglobulins (IgG) from colostrum is a sliding door up to 24 hours.
    Colostrum quality also declines with time, so it is important to milk the dam immediately after calving
  • 2. Quantity: Deliver four litres or 10% of body weight within the first four hours of birth
  • 3. Quality: Test colostrum using a colostrometer or refractometer and only feed quality colostrum of >20g/ litre of IgG
  • 4. sQueaky clean: Ensure colostrum is collected cleanly and refrigerated in a sealed vessel, otherwise bacteria will multiply and be absorbed by the calf
  • 5. Quantify: Monitor your colostrum feeding programme by working with your vet to routinely monitor total blood proteins in calves as an indication of IgG absorption

Communicate

 

Feedback from those surveyed suggested more needed to be done to communicate the importance of ‘sQueaky clean’ and ‘Quantification’ as part of the 5Qs of colostrum management.

This suggested ‘a lack of focus on colostrum hygiene and measurement of successful antibody transfer’.

Dr Robinson says: “It’s like having a car and putting the wrong fuel into it; you’re not going to get the performance you want.

Colostrum is the fuel to get them started and allows them to achieve their potential.” Time and labour constraints were identified as some of the main reasons for not following advice.

However, Dr Robinson says it is an area well worth making time for.

“The research helps to contextualise the environment farmers are operating in.

They’ve got a lot going on. They’re busy people,” he says. “It is a challenge, but that care and attention pays dividends.

They’ll achieve target daily liveweight gains and age at first calving.

If you don’t get it right you’ll have higher disease and calf mortality. It fits with the ‘Colostrum is Gold’ campaign,” he says.

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