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Disease? Not On My Farm! Ambassador Blog
#ColostrumIsGold – protecting the future health of the herd
Disease? Not On My Farm! ambassador, Fraser Jones, farms across nine sites including two youngstock units in Powys. Working closely with his vet, Oli Hodgkinson from Trefaldwyn Vets, Fraser has made significant improvements to calf health. He shares how his calves get the best possible start and why ‘colostrum is gold’ at Calcourt Farms.
Why is colostrum such an important focus area for you?
The first 24 hours in a calf’s life are critical to its long-term productivity potential1. Born with very limited immunity, calves rely on receiving colostrum quickly to provide the antibodies to help combat common diseases, such as scour.
Colostrum is essential to our overall herd heath plan.
If we don’t get the quality and quantity right, there’s an ongoing impact on the animal’s health. In my experience, it can potentially affect their life-time productivity so it’s important to us to do our best to protect their longevity.
What changes have you made to your colostrum protocols?
The first big change was to vaccinate our cows with MSD Animal Health’s Bovilis® Rotavec® Corona at drying off to boost the level of antibodies in the dam’s colostrum.
It’s an annual vaccination which boosts maternal antibody levels in colostrum and milk to three main causes of calf scours; rotavirus, coronavirus and E. coli F5 (K99)2.
We then harvest the dams' colostrum which is fed to the newborn calf transferring immunity, helping to protect them against disease.
Can you explain the process of harvesting colostrum?
Freshly calved cows are milked as quickly as possible in a dedicated eight-stall, single-sided herringbone parlour. Here, the colostrum is collected into individual, cleaned and disinfected churns.
We test the colostrum using a colostrometer and if it hits the required quality (green on the scale) for IgG antibody levels, it’s immediately poured into a new bag for freezing.
We’re looking for more than 55 mg/ml of immunoglobin, we average hitting 65 mg/ml so I’m very happy with that result.
What factors influence colostrum quality?
We reviewed our transition cows and have altered their diet by working backwards from calving.
In line with veterinary advice, cows are fed a dedicated transition diet, including a proportion of the milker’s ration plus 4.5-5 kg per head of chopped straw, magnesium chloride and dry cow minerals.
This means cows are provided with the right amount of energy, while the rumen is kept full to encourage intakes post-calving.
This has helped improve colostrum quality and help cows recover from calving. All this data is recorded so that we can monitor our progress.
How do you ensure every calf gets the right colostrum?
The role of the team in delivering colostrum is essential.
With around 23 calves coming into both youngstock units per week, they must ensure calves get exactly what they need.
Rotas have changed so no-one works more than five days before having two days off.
As a result, people are fresher and able to cope with the night checks at 10pm, 12pm, 2am and 4am.
These night shifts are fundamental to ensuring calves receive the recommended four litres of quality colostrum within one hour of birth, whatever time they are born3.
It’s clear to see colostrum management is a priority on your farm. What’s the impact been in terms of measurable results?
With all the measures we’ve introduced (colostrum management, biosecurity and environmental measures and monitoring), cases of scours have been reduced by 60-70%. With that improvement comes reduced time and money associated with administering treatments to scouring animals.
The calves are stronger, they’re healthy and performing better and that’s what’s getting us closer to our age at first calving target of 24 months.
Any other top tips?
Hygiene, hygiene, hygiene. Gold standard colostrum goes hand in hand with gold standard cleanliness.
1. Case Study: Effects Of Colostrum Ingestion on Lactational Performance1 (researchgate.net)
2. Calf Scour Causes, Costs and Prevention | MSD Animal Health HUB (msd-animal-health-hub.co.uk)
3. Effective Colostrum Management | MSD Animal Health HUB (msd-animal-health-hub.co.uk)
Bovilis® Rotavec® Corona contains inactivated rotavirus and coronavirus and E. coli F5 (K99) antigens. POM-VPS.
Further information is available from the SPC, datasheet or package leaflet.
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