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Dairy farmers are making real progress towards better calf colostrum management practices – but still need to focus on improved performance monitoring. Progress made on calf colostrum management

Dairy farmers are making real progress towards better calf colostrum management practices – but still need to focus on improved performance monitoring.

More farmers are reaping the benefits of improved calf health by ensuring youngstock get a better start, according to a study of colostrum management practices conducted by MSD Animal Health during early 2022.

“That’s great news,” said MSD youngstock category product manager Rob Simpson (pictured right), who described it as a crucial area. “Colostrum’s importance cannot be over-emphasised,” he added.

In addition to providing immunity against key early life disease threats, colostrum helps kickstart sound organ development and a healthy metabolism in youngstock when fed correctly and in enough quantity.

“A good colostrum intake enables a greater response by the calf to important vaccines – up to six to ten months of age. The additive impact of sound colostrum feeding protocols and vaccination is the cornerstone of immunity-led disease prevention.”

Some 248 dairy farmers responded to the survey – including all-year-round and block-calving herds. The poll was designed to highlight any improvements following a similar survey two years ago.

Some 49% of respondents said they always checked the quality of their cow colostrum before storing or feeding it, 25% said sometimes and 26% never. Two years ago, 44% of farmers said they never tested their colostrum.

Newborn calves should be fed at least four litres (or 10% of bodyweight) of good quality colostrum within four hours of birth. A further two litres should be given within 12 hours of birth, said Mr Simpson.

Disease protection

The earlier colostrum is fed, the quicker disease protection can be gained. Colostrum also has a local protective effect in the gut and there is evidence that it can be beneficial for calves to receive it on a daily basis up until seven days of age.

More than 70% of respondents said they were feeding up to four litres of colostrum with a further 9% feeding more than four and a half litres. They were also getting it into the calf faster – more than 75% within six hours of birth and more than 15% within 12 hours.

Mr Simpson said it was also encouraging that more farmers appreciated the importance of good hygiene. This is because the number of bacteria in the colostrum can double every 20 minutes if it is not stored in a fridge or frozen.

“More than 60% of farmers are feeding it within 30 minutes of harvest and another 23% within the hour,” said Mr Simpson, warning that it was pointless to invest in better colostrum management and feeding practices if progress was not monitored.