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Remember to Feed'em Fast

By: Chad Christensen

When it comes to the first feeding there are many critical factors involved in order to achieve success and have a healthy calf, this of course sets the stage to make a healthy cow with a long productive life.  One of the first rules to apply is feed ‘em fast.   

There are two main reasons to feed colostrum quickly to calves. The first is related to the calf’s ability to absorb IgG (antibodies) into its bloodstream. As soon as the calf is born, a number of changes begin to occur in the calf’s digestive system, as the calf gets older, it loses the ability to absorb IgG into its bloodstream. This is called closure and it occurs in calves at about 24 hours of life. After 24 hours, IgG fed to calves may provide local, intestinal protection, but they will not be absorbed intact into the bloodstream to give the calf passive immunity. The rate at which closure occurs is not fully understood, but it appears to begin at birth, so calves that are fed colostrum at 12 hours old will absorb less IgG than calves fed at 1 hour. Therefore, it makes sense to maximize the calf’s natural ability to absorb IgG by feeding as soon as is possible.

The second reason for feeding colostrum early may be more critical. The newborn calf’s intestine is nearly defenseless against bacteria and viruses that the calf may ingest in the first few hours of life. Many of the defensive mechanisms that prevent infection in calves are “turned off” in the newborn to allow the calf to absorb IgG, so newborns are particularly sensitive to ingested pathogens.

Granted, feeding maternal colostrum is still the gold standard. But, a number of farms still aren’t providing the kind of maternal colostrum that calves need. In this case, a colostrum replacer can be the bridge between the high expectations people have for their calves and reality.

You might consider using a colostrum replacer if:

Maternal colostrum is not of high-enough quality. Are you ensuring quality with a Brix refractometer? Feed colostrum that registers 22 percent or higher on a Brix refractometer.  An option would be to have your veterinarian check the status of calves by taking blood samples at 24 to 72 hours of age and have those checked for either serum total protein.  Total protein values can vary depending on the protein source.  If you are using a colostrum replacer, this number could be lower, as colostrum replacers are typically very concentrated, and the total amount of non-globulin protein is often lower than in maternal colostrum.

Maternal colostrum is contaminated with too much bacteria.  Remember the bacteria count can double every 15 minutes.  Feeding maternal colostrum immediately after first milking is the best.  However, not always practical on a dairy.  There is also the possibility of disease transmission through maternal colostrum, such as Johne’s. 

In many cases there are staffing issues where it is difficult to ensure that maternal colostrum can be delivered in a consistent manner. Colostrum replacers are usually more convenient to administer.  For all of these reasons most dairies will always incorporate a colostrum replacer as an option to have on hand at all times.

Convert Immpower TBC is a great option when considering a colostrum replacer.  Sourced from 100% Grade A dairies in the U.S. it is unique because it also contains specialized proteins providing specific immunity for E. coli, Salmonella, Rotavirus and Coronavirus.  Utilizing this technology is a great way to insure the health and future of your herd starting at the first hours of age. 

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