How to optimize health and production in calf rearing?
By Leonardo Bringhenti DVM PhD – Technical Services Consultant
The basis for the health and productivity of a dairy cow begins even before it is born as a calf. The first weeks after birth have a strong influence on the further development and productivity of a dairy cow. However, during this period the calf is very vulnerable and susceptible to health challenges.
In the period around dry-off and calving, there are many situations in which stress can be expected for the cow, including changes of group and ration. Stressful circumstances during the last phase of pregnancy can have consequences for the development of the calf. This phase is characterized by enhanced muscle growth and fat deposition, which contribute to rapid weight gain of the fetus and thus the future calf.
Why are colostrum antibodies so important?
Because there is no intrauterine transfer of maternal immunity across the placenta, calves are born with extremely low blood concentrations of antibodies (Immunoglobulins – Ig), and during the first weeks of life, a calf can hardly produce its own antibodies and other defensive immune cells. Therefore, calves are entirely dependent on the immunity provided mainly by the antibodies present in the colostrum. “The absorption of antibodies by the calf is called passive immunity. The innate active immunity (own defence) of calves only begins at the age of 3 to 7 weeks,” says Vetvice (2006).
Furthermore, the quality of colostrum is crucial for a calf to strengthen its natural defense mechanism in the first weeks. If a calf does not receive the right quantity and quality of colostrum, a major impact on its resistance and therefore a higher risk of developing diseases will occur.
How to make sure I have a high-quality colostrum and good immune passive transfer?
The quality of colostrum is generally considered as satisfactory when the concentration of IgG reaches >50 g/L. Furthermore, it is known that at least 4 L of colostrum should be fed to the calves within 6 hours of birth to ensure the maximum absorption of the antibodies. One of the most commons ways to indirect measure the quality of colostrum is by using the Brix refractometer. This is a practical method to estimate levels of colostral antibodies. Any colostrum with a Brix reading of 22% or greater can be considered a high-quality colostrum.
It is also important to make sure that the calves are absorbing the colostrum antibodies. For that, serum total protein concentrations within the first two days of calves’ life are extremely useful. There is a highly significant relationship between serum antibodies and total protein concentrations. A successful passive transfer is categorized based on an IgG serum concentration of at least 10g/L or its equivalent serum total protein concentration of at least 5.2 g/dL.
Supporting calves during start-up
AHV focuses on supporting dairy farmers for optimal animal health. With innovative solutions based on QSA (Quorum Sensing Antagonist) Technology, AHV contributes to the health, operating results and job satisfaction of a dairy farmer.
AHV’s Calf Start contains, among other important ingredients, antibodies from inoculated cows. By adding the Calf Start to the (colostrum) milk, you ensure that an extra high number of antibodies is released into the milk. The Calf Start ensures better growth and digestion, so that the calf gets through an immunity dip or stress moment better. The AHV Calf Start is a dietetic feed.
Furthermore, AHV Calf Start is highly recommended during the first 2 weeks of the calves’ life. A dose of 25 grams can be mixed with milk or milk replacer and administered twice a day during feedings.
Calf Start is a complete powder product that provides immune system support, intestinal support with probiotic and prebiotic functions as well as intestinal lumen protection. In addition, Calf Start also contains Crypto-specific countering effect, and is a source of minerals and dextrose.
If you would like to be able to manage the health of your calves easily and know more information on how AHV products can help, please contact your local AHV Advisor in your region for tailor-made advice.
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Would you like to be visited by an advisor to discuss the health challenges on your farm together? Our AHV Farm Advisor will be happy to visit you to jointly assess the health of your cows and come up with appropriate cow-specific advice.
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