UK: Workshohps outline ‘best start in life’ for calves

The importance of the first few hours of a calf’s life, and their effect on lifetime performance, was the message from

Jud Heinrichs, Professor of Dairy Science at Pennsylvania State University, took a series of calf and heifer workshops arranged by Massey Feeds and Alltech UK in Cheshire and Lancashire.

“A calf never gets over a good or a bad start in life,” said Professor Heinrichs, who was visiting from the USA where he specialises in the growth and management of dairy heifers.

“Whether destined for the beef or dairy sector, the first few hours are absolutely critical,” he said.

Precise colostrum management and heifer rearing, along with good mineral nutrition throughout, particularly for the dry cow, all play their part in maximising lifetime potential.

“The workshops were fascinating, with over 160 farmers hanging on Professor Heinrichs’ every word” said Andrew Linscott, Ruminant Specialist for Alltech UK.

“The overriding message was clear – you only get one chance to get a calf off to the best start and it all revolves around correct nutrition, for both mother and calf. You are, after all, looking at the future of your herd.”

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The key priority is providing the newborn calf with the right quantity and quality of colostrum.

“Unlike other species, calves don’t receive any antibodies through the placenta,” explains Professor Heinrichs, “so getting 2-3 litres of top quality colostrum ideally within the first two hours of life is critical. This is the immunity that will help protect the calf that will very soon will be picking up and eating anything from its environment, including bacterial challenges.”

Key calf management points included:

• Feed 2-3 litres of best colostrum within the first 2-4 hours of life

• A total of 5-6 litres within 8 hours is ideal

• Colostrum colour is no indication of IgG (immunoglobulin/antibody) levels. Use a colostrometer to test your own cows’ status.

• Always have labelled, frozen colostrum available and only freeze good quality colostrum that has been tested.

• Continue development of the calf by feeding starchy concentrates along with milk or milk replacer, never forage, to stimulate rumen development and function

“Quality colostrum starts with ensuring the mother is in the correct environment before she starts to produce the colostrum in order to develop antibodies to the local bugs. This is about 4-6 weeks before she is due to calve down. Her own immune status and thus the colostrum IgG levels, will also be affected by her mineral status,” said David Wilde, Ruminant Product Manager of Massey Feeds.

“About 50% of calf mortality is due to failure of transfer of these antibodies through the colostrum, so the better the cow’s health and immunity, the better the colostrum and the better chance there is for the calf. So, in terms of the cow and her calf, we believe in only incorporating additives that are scientifically proven to realise potential.”

“The trial data at several universities around the world show the same benefits of using Alltech’s Bioplexes and Sel-Plex organic trace minerals time and again. The whole Massey Feeds FiMLAC range – that includes Dry Cow Rolls, Formula CMR and Sweet Start pellets - is based on providing the full recommended amounts of Bioplexes and Sel-Plex, not just, for example, 1mg as a ‘token’ inclusion,” said Mr Wilde.

“We believe strongly in the proven benefits of them over the more usual inorganic sources. Bio-mos� is also included in the calf products to help maintain a healthy gut and improve nutrient availability. They all play their part in to the development of a strong immune system and healthy rumen so that the calf is not held back and really does get the very best start.”