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 Knowledge for the CommonWealth

Getting Calves Started Correctly

Dairy Pipeline: August 1997

by Tom Bailey
Dairy Production
Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Vet Medicine
Virginia Tech

Getting calves started correctly is the first step toward raising healthy replacements. Colostrum management, good nutrition and keeping young calves clean, dry and comfortable are the keys to healthy replacements. Colostrum quality and quantity is first step in this important foundation. Colostrum can be easily collected, refrigerated for 4 to 5 days, placed in a freezer, or soured. Keeping check on colostrum quality with a colostrometer (Nasco) insures adequate levels of immunoglobulins are present, however, colostrum should be at room temperature for an accurate reading. Colostrum from older cows should be utilized and fed to calves from first calf heifers because first calf heifers have not been exposed to numerous disease causing organisms and may not have the level of immunoglobulin protection as older cows. Thaw colostrum in warm water, because extremely high thawing temperatures can destroy the protein content of the immunoglobulins. Colostrum may be frozen for months (6 to 12) and should be properly labeled with the contributing dam's identification number, the date collected, and immunoglobulin status (good, fair, poor) of the colostrum. Only "good" category colostrum should be fed the first 24 hours of the calf's life, using "fair" only if "good" is unavailable. "Poor" should be used as milk replacer for older calves. Hand feeding insures adequate intake of 8 to 10 percent of the calf's body weight in the first 12 hours of life. The typical 80 to 85 lb calf should receive 2 quarts in the first 2 hours after birth and 2 quarts more 6 to 8 hours later. An additional 4 quarts should be divided into 2 feedings to bring the total intake of high quality colostrum to 2 gallons within the first 24 hours. If calves are left to nurse on their own, research has shown 25 to 40 percent of the calves do not receive adequate amounts of colostrum with protective immunoglobulin levels against primary digestive (diarrhea) and respiratory pathogens (pneumonia). Calves (~70) monitored at the Va-Md Regional College of Veterinary Medicine had the highest level of protection when fed 2 gallons within the first 24 hours of life. Calves should have their navel dipped in an iodine solution (strong 7%). This practice should be repeated every 12 hours for 3 treatments, or until the navel cord appears dry. Navel dipping, however aids only in decreasing the incidence of umbilical infections. A clean, dry, comfortable environment plays a much greater role in calf health.

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