Colostrum – it’s all about quantity and quality

Delegates attending today’s Walsh Fellowship Seminar at the RDS were informed that offering newborn calves the required quantity of colostrum is crucially important– as is the quality of this all-important first feed.

Teagasc’s Muireann Conneely added that providing calves with high quality in the first couple of hours of life is crucially important in determining its future ability to thrive and grow.

The calf mortality rate in Ireland is well above that currently reported in other European countries,” she explained. “The provision of high-quality colostrum is necessary to provide calves with  immunological protection and resistance to disease, and is vital to ensure their health and wellbeing. The aim of our current research work is to investigate strategies to maximise calf health in early life.

“This is achieved by determining the factors associated with colostrum quality, ascertaining colostrum feeding strategies that ensure optimal transfer of immunity to the  calf, and establishing milk feeding regimes that ensure optimal growth and health,” she explained.

“The colostral immunoglobulin G, or IgG concentration, of cows in the study was 112 grams per litre. Colostrum  is classified as being of good quality if it has an IgG concentration of greater than 50 g/L.

“Colostrum of the highest quality was obtained from cows that were milked earliest  post-calving, older parity cows, cows that produced a smaller quantity of colostrum and  cows that calved earlier in spring or in autumn. Significantly, the greatest levels of transfer of immunity were  achieved when calves were fed 8.5 per cent of birth bodyweight in colostrum, compared to calves  fed seven per cent or 10 per cent.”

Conneely also pointed out that calves offered subsequent feeds of transition milk were less likely to exhibit signs indicating compromised health. “Calves that were fed 15 per cent instead of 10 per cent of their birth bodyweight in milk were heavier at the beginning and end of the pre-weaning stage,” she commented.

“Feeding calves this higher volume of milk once a day or in two equally divided meals did not adversely affect calf performance or health.”

Connelly concluded: “Good colostrum management is crucial to  reduce calf mortality and morbidity; the results of this study suggest that this can be achieved by milking the cow as soon as possible post calving, and by feeding the neonatal  calf 8.5 per cent of birth bodyweight in colostrum within two hours of birth.”

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