Little girl feeding calf with bottle outside

Importance of a Calf’s First Meal

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.  Making certain that this first immunological base is provided to young calves in a timely fashion will have a critical impact on the defense against health challenges common to young animals.. During the past 2 years more than 300 calves have resided at the Grober Young Animal Development Center, located in Woodstock, Ontario.  This Center focuses on nutritional and management research for pre-ruminants, such as calves (for Gro Facts e-blast please insert pict of GYADC).  Each calf entering the facility was tested for total protein (a simple blood test).  Total protein 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: (a) the calf’s environment, (b) the feeding utensils (tube, bottle, nipple …) and (c) the cow before she was milked or the quality of water used to mix the colostrum replacer.   Figure 1 Body weight differences in calves that were above 5.5 mg/dL (SPT) and those that were below (FPT). Figure 2 Relationship between total protein values and the number of health events.

Results from the Grober center show a clear pattern of improved growth in those calves with total protein greater than 5.5 mg/dL.  This improved status remained long after active immunity had taken hold, to show a difference of   2.2 kg (4.8 lbs) by 10 weeks of age (Figure 1).  Furthermore, calves with total protein over 5.5 mg/dL were sick less often (Figure 2).  It is clear that calves with blood levels over 6.5 mg/dL show the least incidence of disease.  It is critical to note that 64% of the calves lost before weaning had total protein levels below 5.5 mg/dL and 79% below 6.5 mg/dL. Taking care in delivering quality colostrum to the calf can go a long way in protecting them from disease and death.  While 5.5 mg/dL is used as a pass or fail line, the data from the Grober Young Animal Development Center demonstrated that values above 6.5 mg/dL will make a significant difference to a calf’s health.  Early 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 production 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 6 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.

Consider a colostrum replacer guaranteed to have 100g IgG within a pouch, proven to deliver successful passive transfer. Furthermore, products such as Grober GroStart™ has been carefully pasteurized to eradicate precursors to disease.

Grober Nutrition