Calf management programs generally focuses on the calf's survival and health. Normally, feeding strategies would involve restricting the amount of milk or milk replacer to the calf to encourage grain intake in order to accelerate weaning reduce the potential for scours and other illness, thus, reducing the cost of feeding and management.
With that being said, data shows that decreasing liquid feed intake do not significantly enhance starter intake and promote rumen development. A good calf rearing program should not only be about survival but instead, should focus on increasing performance and production.
Importance of colostrum
The cornerstone of any dairy producer's calf rearing program is an excellent colostrum management program.
Understanding how colostrum can be a drug and how it positively affects the calf from birth to lactation is crucial for any famers.
The most important factor in dairy calf health and survival is feeding newborn calf sufficient amounts of high quality colostrum early in life.
At birth, calf has a poorly developed immune system. The placenta does not allow transfer of antibodies, known as immunoglobulins (Igs), from mother to the fetus during pregnancy.
True colostrum, also known as "first milk", is rich with antibodies that provide the calf protection from diseases in early life until the calf develop it's own immune system.
Colostrum is also important as the first source of nutrient after birth.
There are also studies that show colostrum proteins and growth factors can permanently affect an animal's ability to make milk after calving.
There is nutritional advantage colostrum over whole milk (Table 1):
The nutritional advantage of colostrum ensures the needs of the newborn calf are provided for at birth.
There are also major advantages for future survivability as well as reduced disease incidence and future milk production.
Feeding more colostrum also helps to reduce cost (Table 2):
Each calf had around $10 reduced in veterinary cost when more colostrum is fed to the calf.
There is also an increase in first and second lactation yield with no increased extra cost.
Testing colostrum quality
A Brix refractometer is a quick and simple tool you can use on the farm to determine the level of Igs in colostrum.
Readings of more tan 22 on Brix scale indicate that the IgG concentrations are desirable.
Simply apply small amount of colostrum onto the "stage" of the Brix and view the grid to determine colostrum quality.
Excellent colostrum management is crucial in order to ensure the calf's health and productivity is high.
Colostrum should be considered a "drug" as it significantly improves the calf's health and performance.
It comes at no extra cost and is at your disposal upon the birth of every calf.
Evaluate colostrum quality by utilizing Brix refractometer to test the quality of colostrum on your farm.