Current Progressive Cattle digital edition

The importance of the calf’s first meal

Grober Nutrition Published on 18 April 2012

Colostrum is the first milk produced after a cow gives birth; it is a nutrient dense, immunoglobulin rich milk designed for the newborn calf. Delivering that milk with care is the key to ensuring that a calf's immune system (immature at birth) starts to develop thus warding off infections that are common to young animals.

Total protein (a simple blood test) is a strong indicator of the colostrum program. Higher values indicate a calf received enough colostrum within a timely fashion to start building a strong immune system. Factors that will affect colostrum absorption are the cleanliness of the calf’s environment, the feeding utensils (tube, bottle, nipple …) and the cow before she was milked or the quality of water used to mix the colostrum replacer.

Research shows a clear pattern of improved growth in those calves with total protein greater than 5.5 mg per dL. This improved status remained long after active immunity had taken hold, to show a difference of 2.2 kg (4.8 pounds) by 10 weeks old. Furthermore, calves with total protein over 5.5 mg per dL were sick less often.

It is clear that calves with blood levels over 6.5 mg per dL show the least incidences of disease. It is critical to note that 64 percent of the calves lost before weaning had total protein levels below 5.5 mg per dL and 79 percent below 6.5 mg per dL.

Taking care in delivering quality colostrum to the calf can go a long way in protecting them from disease and death. While 5.5mg per dL is used as a pass or fail line, 6.5 mg per dL will make a significant difference to a calf's health.

Earlv health and nutrition are tied into growth. If a calf is using nutrients from feed to get well, they will not be able to maximize their growth and that may impact their output in first lactation. Calves enter the world vulnerable to whatever the environment presents to them, influencing that environment to best meet their needs is setting them up for success.

Steps to a successful colostrum program:

  1. Cleanliness – animals, environment and feeding utensils.
  2. Delivery time – within six hours of birth for the first meal, another meal before 24 hours.
  3. Quality of the colostrum – work with your vet and test your calves for total protein. That will help ensure that the right program is in place for success.  end_mark

—Excerpts from “The Colostrum Counsel” newsletter


Staff photo.