Diarrhea and respiratory disease are the two leading death losses in un-weaned heifer calves. Respiratory problems have increased in the last 20 years, causing more than 20% percent of all dairy calf losses. Heifers that survive continue to perform poorly as adult cows.
Calf deaths within the first 48 hours of life are significant and greatly influenced by nutrition, environment, and management. One of the most prevalent reason for these death losses is the inadequate passive transfer of immunity through colostrum received from the dam. Current guidelines suggest calves should receive 3–4 quarts of high-quality colostrum within 1 hour of birth and 3 additional quarts within the next 12 hours.
If colostrum ingestion is inadequate, esophageal feeders can be used making sure that 3–4 quarts are administered within 1 hour of birth. Pooling colostrum is also becoming popular with large farms because it increases the immune competence of the calves (or their ability to respond to a more diverse pool of pathogens).
Have you fed your calf enough colostrum?
One way to find out if colostrum has supplied adequate amounts of immunoglobulins (IgG) is to measure either IgG directly or serum total protein in blood serum. Serum total protein measured with a refractometer is highly correlated with serum IgG levels. Measuring serum total protein in a group of calves is more meaningful than individual readings; at least 80% of a group of calves should have serum protein levels of 5.5 g/dL or higher.