A calf is born into a world where it is quickly exposed to bacteria from the environment, its dam, the hands of human caretakers, and more. The goal is to help calves build up their immunity before they are exposed to too many environmental threats.
“It’s a race between bacteria in the environment and the initial feeding of colostrum,” said Bob James, a professor emeritus at Virginia Tech and a dairy consultant with Down Home Dairy Solutions. “We want to establish good bacteria and avoid the establishment of undesirable bacteria.”
Colostrum is a major line of defense for the calf, and during the October Hoard’s Dairyman webinar, James reminded the audience of ways farms can optimize their colostrum management.
Quality colostrum production starts with the cow. James said that includes focusing on dry cow nutrition.
He also encouraged dairies to have an optimal calving environment, for the cow, the calf, and the people working there. “I want a really clean calving environment,” he said.
James said cows should be milked as soon as possible after calving to collect the colostrum. The milking equipment and storage vessels used need to be sanitized.
He advised feeding or cooling colostrum shortly after harvest. If there’s a risk of infectious disease on the farm, the colostrum should also be pasteurized, he noted.
Following that initial colostrum feeding, James shared research showing benefits of feeding transition milk to calves in terms of calf health. “Feeding transition milk to the youngest calves as long as possible is another potential benefit,” he emphasized.
James acknowledged that optimal colostrum management is easier said than done, but he also noted, “I have worked with farms that have built a system that enabled them to achieve this practically on their farms. It does take some planning and a commitment to excellence.”
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(c) Hoard's Dairyman Intel 2023
October 16, 2023