It’s just a bull.
He’ll only be here until ________ (insert your local livestock sale day).
No rush feeding him, we won’t be raising him, he’ll be someone else’s problem.
These are just a few of the “reasons” dairy bull calves may not be fed enough colostrum in a timely manner on some dairy farms.
Fortunately, the majority of farms do a good job getting colostrum into all of their calves. However, lack of adequate colostrum was the single biggest frustration of 17 of the 45 folks who participated in the recent Neonatal Calf Care and Management Workshop at the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center in Wooster.
These 17 people, who raise Holstein bull calves, estimated at least 20 percent of the bull calves delivered to their farms obviously didn’t get colostrum.
It’s necessary. Calves that don’t get any or enough colostrum struggle. Up to 80 percent will die in spite of anyone’s best efforts. Why? Calves are born without a functioning immune system.
Colostrum, the first milk given by the mother, has been packed with immunoglobulins (antibodies) that will act as a passive immune system for that calf until their own immune system matures and produces antibodies itself.
The tricky part is getting the colostrum in quickly. The immunoglobulins in the colostrum are only able to pass through the intestinal lining of the calf for a short time. Basically, we have a 24 hour window from birth. That window starts closing as soon as the calf is born.
Move fast. At birth, a calf may be able to absorb around half of the immunoglobulins we feed him or her. Six hours later, it is likely that 20 percent or less will be absorbed. By 24 hours, less than 5 percent will be absorbed.
Quality concerns. Another factor affecting the success of this passive transfer of immunity is how many immunoglobulins we feed the calf. Good colostrum will contain more than 55 grams of immunoglobulins per liter. Anything less than that, which is not uncommon, is considered poor quality.
We would have to feed more of it to give the calf a fighting chance of getting enough immunoglobulins.
If the dam’s own colostrum doesn’t have enough immunoglobulins, other options include: