Focus on immune system increases calf survival and early growth
As I get more grey hair, I more frequently recall that, in days past, it was easier to be an animal nutritionist. Nutrition has evolved to include topics of physiology, microbiology, psychology and immunology. The explanations from immunology have been very helpful in explaining how health challenges will have a big effect on an animal’s growth and productivity.
Years ago, Dr. Tim Stahly convinced me. He demonstrated that young pigs kept away from disease exposure grew at a tremendous rate. He showed that when litters were split and some pigs were kept clean, and others had their immune systems turned on by disease exposure, the challenged pigs grew slower. Activating the immune system is metabolically expensive—upwards of 10 percent of nutrient intake can be used in an immune response. This pulls nutrients away from growth. Couple that with reduced feed intake for the challenged animal and performance suffers.
Over the years, we have used a number of health-immune system modifying compounds—feed additives such as direct-fed microbials, fermentation products, botanicals, yeast-cell wall components, beta-glucans, etc. Over the years, MFA has evaluated nutritional means of improving calf performance. And while we’ve made very successful feeds, we also realized that calf performance doesn’t start when they are weaned—it starts before the calf is born.
Work in the 1980s at Ohio State demonstrated that the vaccination status of the dam influenced the amount and type of immunoglobulins she would produce in colostrum. The quantity and quality of colostrum has a huge effect on calf survivability and performance.
At birth, the calf is relativelyunprotected from disease organisms, and it takes awhile for the calf to develop its immune system. Until it does, calves are very dependent on the passive transfer of disease-fighting immunoglobulins from colostrum.
We know that getting colostrum into calves is really important; calves that are less likely to get sufficient colostrum, in adequate quality, in a timely manner (say bull calves on a dairy) subsequently have more health and performance challenges.
There are standard recommendations to help ensure adequate immunoglobulin absorption, which we refer to as the “Qs.”
It needs to be quick—within 12 hours of birth. Colostrum needs to be of high quality, with more than 50 grams per liter (a liter = a quart plus two ounces, or the amount in a quart bottle filled to overflow). And it needs to be fed in sufficient quantity, the usual recommendation is to feed at least two quarts. At minimum, you want to get 100 grams into the calf. Cows vary substantially in colostrum production, and immunoglobulins levels in the colostrum vary as well.
Most beef producers depend on the cow to dry off the calf and make sure it gets enough colostrum. But, if you can increase colostrum quality and increase colostrum production, you stand a good chance of improving calf performance.
This is especially the case for calving heifers—heifers will not produce as much colostrum as older cows, and the colostrum will be lower in immunoglobulins compared to older cows.
The intent is to “stack the deck” in favor of the dam producing more and better colostrum. There are some feeding programs that have been shown to influence colostrum quantity and quality. We have utilized that field and research work to develop Ricochet. This product line wraps up the elements of the feeding program that have been shown to improve colostrum quality and quantity. To make it work best, start feeding Ricochet 60 days prior to calving. Here are a few tips about Ricochet:
1. Feed adequate energy. Low energy intake has been associated with weak calf syndrome in addition to reductions in colostrum yield and quality. If cows are energy-short, feed four to five pounds of Ricochet to bring additional energy and protein into the ration. If the cows are in good flesh, and the forage base allows for two percent of body weight intake a day at greater than 50 percent TDN, and 10 percent protein, then feeding the two pounds per day, Ricochet cube is appropriate. Feeding fermentable carbohydrates like those in the cubes has been shown to positively influence colostrum production. If the forage base is abundant and greater than 55 percent TDN, and 12 percent crude protein (where only a mineral supplementation is needed), offer Ricochet mineral.
2. Supplement vitamin E and selenium. Both of these have been shown to influence colostrum. Ricochet is fortified with E and Se.
3. Use specific additives that have been shown to stimulate immune response. Ricochet contains beta glucans and mannan oligosaccharides, both of which have been shown to increase colostrum quantity/quality.
We are particularly excited about mannan oligosaccharides or MOS. We use it in All Natural Cattle Charge, Cattlepult, calf starters, milk replacers, rabbit feed and starter pig feed. We’re putting it in Ricochet because we see a response from it in situations where animals are under stress. MOS can have a significant role in preventing infections by some pathogenic bacteria by agglutinating them. In other words, it makes them clump together and prevents them from binding to the host tissue. This has been shown in the lab for pathogenic Clostridia, E. coli, and Salmonella. MOS has been shown to inhibit Cryptosporidium parvum, and calves fed MOS have significantly improved fecal and dehydration scores.
The bottom line is that when we take care of the cow, she’ll take good care of her calf—and you.
Dr. Jim White is ruminant nutritionist for MFA Incorporated.
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