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Creating lifelong immunity in baby calves has never been more important. A proactive approach to health, nutrition, and management is a must from day one. Having a proper program in place not only improves the animal's health, it can also improve resilience to stress and disease. By implementing adequate colostrum protocols, feeding a consistent diet of whole milk or milk replacer, and incorporating immune support products into the liquid ration, your calves will have the greatest chance of success.

Create lifelong immunity – starting with the calf – by incorporating these three tips:

1. Analyze your colostrum program. Measuring serum total proteins will help you evaluate passive transfer of antibodies and assist you in reviewing your colostrum program’s effectiveness. In 2019, a group of calf experts updated industry guidelines to a tiered system for adequate passive transfer of antibodies. Farms with the most success will meet or exceed these standards. Definitions under these guidelines are:

  • Excellent – >40% of calves on farm with serum total proteins (TP) >6.2 grams per deciliter (dl)
  • Good – ~30% of calves with serum TP 5.8-6.1 g/dl
  • Fair – ~20% of calves with a serum TP 5.1-5.7 g/dl
  • Poor – ~10% of calves with serum TP <5.1 g/dl

2. Be consistent. Calves, like human babies, thrive on consistency in their nutrition program. Feed the same volume and temperature of the same product at the same time every day.

Milk replacer: Follow label directions regarding water temperature for reconstitution and mix to the same solids percent every feeding.

Whole milk: Monitor total solids level and supplement as necessary to maintain a consistent product.

Starter: As calves transition from a milk-fed diet to a grain diet, all changes should be gradual and avoid making too many changes at once.

3. Include an immune support product. Even the best calf nutrition programs are not perfect. Consider adding an immune support product, such as SmartCare®, a simple proactive solution for calf health. SmartCare is Diamond V’s natural nutritional health product for pre-weaning whole milk and milk replacer calf diets*. It directly supports the calf’s immune system, maintains gut integrity, and further develops the calf into a ruminant animal. SmartCare, a yeast fermentation product, consists of proven functional metabolites, called bioactives, that enhance rumen and intestinal development, leading to increased starter intake, greater body weight gain, and better performance. By investing in a product that supports better health and rumen function, producers see the results in highly productive lactating cows. Work with your nutritionist or veterinarian to find a product that goes best with your program.

There are going to be numerous challenges that come up along the way. Making sure you have a proactive calf program in place – along with consistent nutrition that supports the calf’s immune system – can help calves face these challenges head on, helping them thrive toward lifetime success.

*Natural as defined by AAFCO

By Kelly Reed, D.V.M., Ruminant Field Technical Specialist, Diamond V