A savings account helps ensure that you’ll be covered for unexpected expenses. The same goes for a calf’s immune system. Investing in maintaining normal digestive health and a healthy immune system from day one by developing proper protocols helps prepare calves to start healthy and fast.
“Think of a newborn calf’s immune system like having $0 in a savings account,” says Rob Farruggio, a veterinarian with 27 years of experience at the Jefferson Veterinary Clinic in Wisconsin. “You need to invest in this savings account to ensure the calves are supported and can maintain normal digestive health from day one.”
Having strong protocols in place from the moment a calf is born will help build immunity and promote a healthy start. Follow these steps to create and implement consistent protocols for newborns on your farm:
The first 48 hours after birth are the perfect time to limit exposure to anything that might affect her immune system. Following consistent colostrum collection and administration protocols is essential to building a strong immune system.
“By feeding calves clean, quality colostrum, you’re giving them a deposit – that deposit isn’t just energy, but it’s their immune system for the next two to three weeks,” says Farruggio.
Include the following colostrum tips in your newborn protocols:
Collect colostrum within four hours of calving.
Test the quality using a Brix refractometer or colostrum tester.
Hand feed 4 pints in 2 hours (approximately 10% of calf body weight).
Follow with a second meal 6 to 12 hours later.
The management of calves during the first 48 hours also plays a role in the development of the immune system.
“Make sure each calf is dried and warmed up as quickly as possible, especially in the colder months,” says Farruggio. “Keep them out of the dirt in the calving pen and into a clean, dry environment with deep bedding.”
And do not forget to soak the navel with 7% iodine.
“I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen farms not dip the navel — they don’t understand the importance of it,” says Farruggio. “Navels are an open wound. The more you can deal with it, the less likely something is going to get into it and affect the immune system.
Continuing to follow consistent feeding and cleaning protocols after the first 48 hours is crucial until Day 21.
“This period is when the calf’s immune system that we built up in the first 48 hours starts to decline and its own immune system gets stronger,” says Farruggio. “During this convergence, we have to make sure the calf passes as best it can.”
Cutting corners in following protocols is a common theme Farruggio sees on farms, especially during the winter months.
“It’s cold and you’re trying to give milk as fast as you can. But if the milk cools too quickly, it could play a role in the development of disease in calves,” says Farruggio. “Once the milk is below 100 degrees Fahrenheit, it slows the rate of passage, and disease-causing (bad) bacteria can come to life.”
Make sure milk solids are the same from feeding to feeding.
Deliver milk at 102 to 105 degrees Fahrenheit. Use a thermometer to test the temperature of the milk from the first calf to the last calf fed.
Keep feeding times consistent. Whether you feed the calves two or three times a day, keep the same times between each feed.
Use a strong cleaning and disinfection protocol:
Ensure that all milk supply equipment is rinsed and then cleaned with a chlorinated alkaline detergent after each use, followed by a chlorine dioxide sanitizer.
Check that the cleaning protocol is working by using an ATP luminometer at least twice a year. You can work with your veterinarian to perform this task.
“Too often, I am called to a farm with a problem of diarrhea and I find that the bucket used to feed the milk still contained milk from a previous feeding. Rather than using a clean bucket, potable water was added to it,” says Farruggio. “Taking shortcuts like this will cost you more in the long run by adding extra time, labor and resources to treat those sick calves.”
Maintaining normal gut health pays
Even with strong management protocols, calves sometimes need extra security to ensure a strong immune system during this vulnerable time.
“Calves are constantly ingesting bacteria, whether by licking their coats, exposing themselves to dirty feeding equipment, or sheltering,” says Farruggio. “Adding products like a full set of eubiotics to your calf protocols can help keep the gut under control.”
Eubiotics combine multiple ingredients to maintain gut health and support the protective layers of the gastrointestinal tract. They generally include probiotics, prebiotics, organic acids and essential oils. A complete set of eubiotics also includes dietary ingredients such as egg protein, specialized whey protein, dried kelp, yucca schidigera, and psyllium seed husks, all known to support a healthy gut.
“What these feed ingredients do is improve gut health and act like a sponge, absorbing the abnormal things the calf has been exposed to,” says Farruggio. “It goes back to the savings account concept – by maintaining normal digestive health, you reduce the chances of the calf’s savings account being impacted or removed. This healthy gut promotes overall well-being and can reduce susceptibility to pneumonia.
Following strict feeding and cleaning protocols will help calves maintain a positive balance in their health savings account.
Learn more about maintaining normal gut health and supporting a healthy immune system with First Arrival with Encrypt calf powder, a complete set of eubiotics, at dbcagproducts.com.