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Create Lifelong Immunity Starting with the Calf

Create Lifelong Immunity Starting with the Calf

Create Lifelong Immunity Starting with the Calf

Kelly Reed, DVM – Diamond V Ruminant Field Technical Specialist

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 health of the animal, it can 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.

How can you create lifelong immunity starting with the calf? By incorporating these three management tips listed below.

Proper Colostrum Management and Feeding:

A good starting point for evaluating the effectiveness of colostrum programs is to evaluate passive transfer of antibodies through measuring serum total proteins. Farms with high rates of passive transfer put a huge emphasis on establishing a colostrum management program and then consistently follow their protocols. In 2019, a group of calf experts updated the industry guidelines to a tiered system for adequate passive transfer. Farms with the most success will meet or exceed these standards. Definitions under these guidelines are:

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

Setting the Path for Success in the Milk:

Calves, like human babies, thrive on consistency in their nutrition program. We want to feed them the same volume and temperature of the same product at the same time every day. Both whole milk and milk replacer can work well, depending on the farm’s management system. With milk replacer, it’s key to follow label directions specifically regarding water temperature for reconstitution, and to mix to the same total solids every feeding. When feeding whole milk, it’s important to monitor total solids and supplement as necessary to keep a consistent product for the calves. As we work toward the goal of transitioning calves from a milk-fed diet to a grain diet, all changes should be gradual, and we should not make more than one change at the same time.

Being Proactive with an Immune Support Product:

Even the best programs are not perfect. A proactive approach to help mitigate day-to-day stress and promote optimal performance and lifetime success is a must. Consider implementing an immune support product that is soluble in milk or milk replacer, helps to directly support the calf’s immune system, maintains gut integrity, and further develops the calf into a ruminant animal. Work with your nutritionist or veterinarian to find a product that goes beyond one specific challenge, such as E.coli. Products that support the GI tract and immune system are key, so whenever ANY challenge comes along, the calf is better prepared to handle it. This is a great tool to not only help your calf nutrition program succeed but strengthen and protect calves.

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 towards lifetime success.