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How Are Your Calves Performing?

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Christine Utting

Author

06 July 2021

The 2020 calving season saw 17 farms enrolled on the WelCalf program across the East and West. Calving started with a hiss and a roar, with plenty of calves on the ground in late July. This was well before most people’s planned start of calving, but thankfully the weather in August was mostly kind which has hopefully given calves a good start.

The WelCalf team were kept busy; visiting each enrolled farm twice (once in early August and again in early September) and collecting blood samples from 10 calves less than a week old. These were tested in-house for Total Protein (TP) levels. 

TP levels are correlated with the quantity of gold colostrum the calf has received within the first 24 hours of life. A calf with a TP of 5.5g/dL or higher is deemed as having adequate passive transfer of colostrum, or APT. Below this and the calf has failure of passive transfer, or FPT. These 10 calves are used as a snapshot to indicate how many of the calves are getting enough gold colostrum. The aim is for as many calves as possible to be achieving APT, at least 80%+.

So, what did we find? These are the results across the 17 farms. Each farm has been allocated a number for anonymity and we have plotted the results from the first (V1) and second (V2) visits for each. This is displayed as a percentage of the 10 calves tested; with the green portion indicating the % of calves achieving 5.5g/dL or above and the red portion showing the % of calves below target.

What are the main trends here?

  • Our mean %APT from the first round of blood testing was 75%
  • Our mean from the second round was 90%, so overall we did see an improvement across the season
  • 7 farms achieved 100% APT in the first round, but sadly none achieved this in the second round
  • We did see 10 farms improve performance between the first and second visits. Farm 16 in particular improved massively with an 80% drop in the % of calves under target, which is awesome to see
  • The vast majority of the calves that did fall under target at the second visit were only just below the threshold

Learnings from these results:

  • FPT is an issue that is affecting most farms at some point in the season
  • It seems to be more common early in the season, but even low levels are still occuring later on. This highlights the importance of having good gold colostrum management practices on farm and maintaining these high standards even when the early rush of calves is over
  • Regular monitoring of TP levels across the season is a great way to identify areas that may need to be improved in terms of gold colostrum management or to reassure your calf rearing team that they are doing an awesome job

Top Tips and Tricks for Ensuring Calves are Achieving APT:

  • Remember the 3 Qs of colostrum management:

Quickly: within 24hrs

Quantity: 10% bodyweight

Quality: 22%+ Brix

  • Use a Brix refractometer in the milking shed to test all freshly calved cow colostrum each day and select the highest quality for the newborn calves
  • Vaccinating cows against calf scours can help improve Brix %, as well as a high protein diet for the springer cows
  • If you have extra good quality gold colostrum, preserve with potassium sorbate for up to a week or freeze to use at the start of next season
  • Keep buckets, tubes and feeders clean to minimise bacterial build up as the bugs will just eat up all the good antibodies in the colostrum

If your calves didn’t perform as well as you’d like last season, or you’ve had issues with scours or death in the sheds, speak to your KeyVet about Total Protein testing and the WelCalf program for the new season. 

If you wish to read more on Passive Transfer, Dr. Emma Cuttance shared an evening with our calf rearers last year and we published her findings on Is Failure of Passive Transfer Affecting Your Heifers

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