9 February 1996

Calf survival can depend on colostrum fed

By Jessica Buss

HALF all new-born calves are at increased risk of disease because they fail to receive adequate colostrum, according to Hamp-shire vet Roger Scott.

To help calves combat infections like pneumonia and scours he suggests feeding artificially at birth and four to six hours later.

One to two litres of colostrum, fed using a stomach feeder bag should be sufficient depending on calf size. This is a safe and quick technique provided it is carried out correctly.

Calves should ideally be fed their own dams colostrum. It is the antibodies in the colostrum which pass on immunity against disease to the calf, he says.

Antibody levels are highest just after calving. And older cows produce colostrum that is higher quality and contains more antibodies than heifers. Mr Scott advises keeping a store of frozen colostrum for calves of heifers or those of cows with little or no colostrum. "Colostrum will freeze for the calving season quite safely. But when stored from one year to the next there could be a reduction in quality," he says.

"Frozen colostrum can be thawed in a microwave and heated to blood temperature without destroying the antibodies."

Mr Scott cautions against over-supplying colostrum by tube because early suckling secures a good maternal bond.

Milk producers currently feeding whole milk to calves to avoid exceeding quota could mix it with colostrum to reduce the risk of scours, especially those caused by rotavirus.

Although after six hours the antibodies in colostrum are no longer absorbed by the small intestine, they can still neutralise certain viruses and bacteria that cause scour.

Mr Scott advises offering 45% colostrum mixed with whole milk. Adding any more colostrum to the mix would prevent clotting and reduce digestion. He also warns against diluting colostrum and milk with water for this can also prevent clotting in the calfs stomach. Milk should ideally be fed at body temp 38C (101F) for this is more natural and aids digestion.

&#8226 2.5-4.5 litres colostrum as soon after birth as possible.

&#8226 Cow colostrum richer in antibodies than that of heifers.

&#8226 Feed at 38C (100F) for best results.

&#8226 Avoid feeding young calves formulin-treated milk