The way we raise dairy calves needs to be improved due to the high rate of illness and death as compared to calves raised in nature or in a beef production setting.
New born calves rely on feeding of good quality colostrum to provide them with passive immunity.
Hence, immunoglobulin G (IgG) in bovine colostrum has been the primary focus lately.
In addition to immune factors, colostrum contains high amounts of growth factors, hormones, fatty acids and nucleotides as compared to mature milk.
It also contains high amounts of simple sugars, which can aid in the development of beneficial gut bacteria and eradicating gastrointestinal pathogens.
If the dam is producing these compounds, it is safe to say that it is vital to the development of new born calf.
2. Transition from colostrum to milk diet
In a natural setting, a calf would consume "transition milk" - milkings two to six, directly from the dam.
However, transition milk is commonly discarded on-farm, resulting the calf being transitioned from colostrum directly onto whole milk.
Transition milk contains high amounts of bioactive compounds not present in whole milk.
Studies have showed that calves fed with transition milk after initial colostrum meal had decreased risk of eye, ear and nasal discharge.
This could be due to growth factors and cytokines in transition milk having "immune-enhancing" effect on the calf.
3. Impact of dam on calf health and well being
Calf is usually separated from the dam immediately after birth to decrease the risk of exposure to harmful pathogens as well as to ensure calf receives sufficient amount of good quality colostrum.
However, it has been demonstrated that calves kept with the dam for 14 days after birth gain more than 3 times the weight and showed better health as compared to those separated at one day.
Although more research is needed due to the contrast in this approach with respect to disease transmission, keeping the dam with calf for extended periods of time may have benefits from a production standpoint.
High rates of morbidity and mortality in the dairy sector is concerning.
There is still a lot of information to be uncovered in regards to calf management.
By uncovering these information, we can improve the animal welfare standards and decrease rate of morbidity and mortality to ensure healthier calves.