September 5, 2017 at 3:32 p.m.
Calves' first feeding is most important
Jenn Bentley and Lee Kilmer, both members of the Iowa State University Dairy Team, presented information on how to "Leave No Dairy Calf Behind" during the Iowa Dairy Days held in January and February around the state.
"That first feeding is the most critical feeding that calf will ever have," said Kilmer at the Dairy Days event held in Calmar.
Having a good calf program has the potential to help heifers achieve breeding weight at an earlier age, reduce age of first calving, increase the potential for internal herd growth and possibly increase milk yield and herd life, said Kilmer.
Kilmer said although the importance of colostrum to prevent illness and mortality has been known for decades, recent research has led to some changes in recommendations. Dairy producers should consider the "Four Qs" when managing colostrum:
• Quantity - ideally 10-15 percent of birth weight, or 4 liters for a 90 pound calf
• Quality - colostrum should have more than 50 grams per liter (g/L) of immunoglobulin G (IgG), an antibody which controls infection by identifying and destroying invading pathogens
• Quickly - first feeding should be within two hours, if at all possible, and definitely within four hours of birth
• sQueaky clean - colostrum should have less than 100,000 cfu/mL TPC (Total Plate Count), which is the total bacterial load in a given sample
Kilmer cited a study involving about 70 Brown Swiss calves. The calves fed four liters of colostrum at birth versus two liters had a higher rate of gain (2.20 pounds per day versus 1.76), were younger at conception ( 13.5 months versus 14), had a higher rate of surviving through two lactations (87.1 percent versus 75.3) and they produced more milk during those first two lactations (37,558 pounds versus 35,297).
In the paper written by Kilmer and Bentley, they recommended dairy producers who do not meet minimum standards with their calves in the first 60 days of life for mortality (<5 percent), scours (<25 percent) and pneumonia (<10 percent) re-evaluate their calf and heifer rearing practices and address the "Four Qs."
"Older cows, on average, produce higher quality colostrum then first lactation cows," said Kilmer.
According to a 2012 study, immunoglobulin levels for heifers freshening were 42.2 mg/mL, cows entering their second lactation had levels of 68.6 mg/mL and cows entering their third lactation averaged 95.9 mg/mL.
Kilmer said it's often better to feed a calf born to a first lactation heifer frozen colostrum from a multi-lactation cow than colostrum from its own dam.
Calves have the highest efficiency (50 percent) to absorb immunoglobulins within the first four hours of birth. By the time the calf is six hours old, that absorption is down to 15 percent, and by eight hours, it is less than 10 percent.
He cited data that indicates absorption of immunoglobulin is actually decreased not only with the passage of time, but also if bacterial load in the colostrum is high. Kilmer said when it comes to cleanliness, farmers should be taking the same measures for colostrum as they do to produce quality milk."
The article by Kilmer and Bentley states, "The same practices that contribute to low SCCs also are important in maintaining a low bacterial load in colostrum, namely, properly cleaning and sanitizing the udder and teats before milking the cow, and making sure that the utensils and equipment have been properly cleaned and sanitized as well."
Having a plate count (TPC measured in cfu/mL) of less than 100,000 is ideal. The ISU Dairy Team recommends feeding fresh colostrum, or freezing it. Samples tested showed 67 percent of fresh colostrum had a TPC of less than 100,000 and 61 percent of frozen colostrum had the same low TPC. Only 23 percent of refrigerated colostrum had a TPC of less than 100,000; in fact, 38 percent of refrigerated colostrum had a TPC of more than one million.
Dairy producers who pasteurize their milk should not let the milk set at room temperature prior to pasteurization; they are much better off pasteurizing the milk and letting it sit if necessary. Milk at room temperature can double the bacteria count in as little as 30 minutes. The same goes for producers collecting colostrum for feeding - they should either feed it right away or freeze what they aren't going to use to limit bacteria growth
Kilmer said frozen colostrum can be thawed in the microwave if needed.
"Do not use the highest setting, and pour off the liquid as it thaws," he said.
Kilmer noted that a calf needs almost twice as much milk replacer and/or dry matter when it is 20 below as when it is 70 degrees.
"I don't think we pay enough attention to this. We need to get more nutrients in these calves when the temperature drops than many realize," he said.
Kilmer also pointed out that bunk space is critical for calves from two months of age on. From 60 days to six months, there should be adequate space for all animals to eat at the same time. From six to 12 months of age, 18 inches per head are required, and from 12 to 18 months, they should have 20 inches per head. From 18 months to three weeks pre-fresh, they should have 24 inches per head, and from three weeks prior to calving, the recommended feeding space is 30 inches per head.
All calves, regardless of age, should be provided with an environment that is clean, dry, draft free and has good air quality.
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