A newborn calf’s immunity is similar to that of a cancer patient, according to one of Australia’s premier dairy veterinarians, Rob Bonanno.
Dr Bonanno’s comments comparing newborn calves and cancer patients was in response to recommended numbers coming out of the United States, which state newborns should be fed 10per cent of their body-weight in two feeds of colostrum within six hours of birth.
No immunity at birth
He draws the link between a calf and cancer patient’s immunity to graphically illustrate just how vulnerable calves are.
‘‘That’s because for the first two to three weeks of their life, calves have no immunity to disease or bacteria — save for the initial passive immunity transfer (PIT) of antibodies they get from their dams’ colostrum,’’ Dr Bonanno said.
‘‘By the time a calf is 12 hours old, that PIT number is as low as 20 per cent.
‘‘At 24 hours, the percentage has plummeted to just five per cent.
‘‘I kind of picture feeding colostrum as a window that is slamming shut from the time the cow calves.
‘‘You get one chance to achieve PIT.’’
Colostrum stops at calving
It is also important to note that a cow stops making colostrum as soon as she calves, Dr Bonanno said.
‘‘So if the cow is milked late, the colostrum she made before calving is diluted by the milk she made post calving,’’ he said.
‘‘And, finally if the dairy producer doesn’t harvest, store or feed the colostrum hygienically, the calf’s chance of survival takes another big hit.’’
Dr Bonanno said suckling was always the best and first choice.
‘‘If you feed a calf 10 per cent of its bodyweight with a mediocre or better-quality colostrum, it will still get the 100 grams of IgG (immunoglobulin G) it needs.’’
Proactively fight early calf disease
He says one of the easiest suggestions for farms struggling with early calf diseases is to move from once-a-day calf collections to twice-a-day.
This tightens the window for harvesting and feeding quality colostrum.
‘‘The reality is that one third of calves left to suckle off their mothers are going to fail to achieve PIT.
‘‘And, believe it or not, but by simply collecting the calves more often, you can have a significant impact on that result.
‘‘I truly believe that the first four to six weeks of a calf’s life have been grossly underestimated within predicting the life-long performance of that animal.’’
Milk bacteria levels double every 20 minutes
Ultimately, hygiene across the board, attention to detail and the human factor remain key parts of the equation.
‘‘Bacteria levels double in the milk every 20 minutes that the milk sits in a bucket at 20°C, ambient temperature,’’ Dr Bonanno said.
‘‘So, if that happens and then you use a dirty bottle, you are potentially feeding newborn calves ‘bacteria soup’, and calling it colostrum.
‘‘If you’re trying to kill them, that’s the way to do it.
‘‘I work on the theory: if you wouldn’t feed your child out of a dirty bottle, why would you feed a calf milk from a dirty bottle?’’
The good news is that along the information highway of technology there also travels an equal amount of ongoing solutions and breakthroughs.
Australian-owned and operated company Daviesway has four time-saving solutions already in the mix for this autumn’s calving — aimed directly at calf health.
One of them is a potential game changer for the colostrum conversation.
Daviesway manufactures the only dried bovine colostrum in Australia. It means dairy producers can now choose to fortify colostrum with Kwik Start.
Kwik Start carries high levels of immunoglobulins and anti-bacterials — designed to help establish immunity and intestinal protection for newborn calves, kids, lambs and foals.
Furthermore, it also contains whey protein, omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, vitamins and minerals.
For more information, visit: www.daviesway.com.au
Dr Bonanno is a former president of Australian Cattle Veterinarians, and most recently worked as the head vet at Coomboona Farms. He is now a dairy herd health consultant with Apiam Animal Health to help troubleshoot and solve health issues within Australian herds.