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Colostrum: A lactation enhancer? (Proceedings)
Immunoglobulins cannot traverse the placenta in cattle, so calves are born without any innate immune protection.
Immunoglobulins cannot traverse the placenta in cattle, so calves are born without any innate immune protection. To that end, feeding of colostrum has received research attention, and a few important outcomes have surfaced. First, the quality of colostrum fed to the calf should deliver IgG to attain a blood concentration of at least 10 mg/ml. This is equivalent to 1000 mg/dl.
Surveys comparing quality of colostrum indicate that we can expect Holsteins to produce colostrum with IgG content averaging 48 g/L. The range will be expected to vary between 20 and 100 g/L (BAMN, 2001).
In heat-stressed calves, absorption of IgG may not be adequate, so blood concentrations should be assayed periodically. The current recommendation within the industry is to feed 4 L of colostrum within 30-60 minutes following birth. Feeding can be with a bottle or esophageal feeder, but it is essential that the calf gets fed 4 L to receive optimal passive immunity. Death rates are higher in calves with blood concentrations below the 10 mg/ml range. Unfortunately, about 40 % of calves receiving colostrum are at risk because because their blood values fall below the threshold of 10 mg/ml (BAMN, 2001).
In past recommendations, it was suggested that colostrum be pooled, particularly from older cows with broader exposure to pathogens, so a wide range of protection could be conveyed to calves not receiving sufficient volume/quality of colostrum from their dams. With the knowledge that a primary vehicle of Johne's transmission is feeding colostrum from an infected/shedding animal, pooling of colostrum is now discouraged. It is a good practice to keep some colostrum from older cows for deprived calves, but batches should be segregated so "trace-back" is possible if a cow is ever suspect for Johne's.
On large dairies, it is becoming commonplace to pasteurize colostrums to kill the Johne's bacterium. This is the ideal situation. There are also several powdered colostrums on the market, and USDA ensures that the quality conveys the 10 mg/ml concentration to fed calves when product is reconstituted with water.
Since accelerated raising of heifers has been evaluated experimentally, research has extended that to intensive feeding of calves prior to weaning, which obviously touches on management practices with colostrum, milk and milk replacers. Drackley (2007) summarized where the industry currently stands with those practices. What is becoming clear is that feeding of 4 L of high quality colostrum can have a profound effect on lactational performance of those animals as cows more than two years later! To put that into context, we need to consider that the bovine mammary gland is not fully differentiated until birth of the first calf. Therefore, there is a wide window in which we may be able to positively (or negatively) affect productive potential of an animal commencing in utero and continuing out to approximately two years of age.
Figure 1 below illustrates first lactation performance of Holstein calves allowed to suckle their dams (DeNise et al., 1989). No attempt was made to force-feed colostrum to ensure adequate intake of IgG. Blood was collected approximately 24 h after parturition and was analyzed for IgG to serve as an indirect assessment of uptake of colostrum.
From Figure 1, it is obvious that 25 mg/ml was average IgG assayed at a day of age. The range was 0-108 mg/ml. The regression line in Figure 1 illustrates that calves receiving the highest IgG produced 2,000 lbs. more milk in first lactation contrasted to herdmates without measurable IgG. Heifers with average IgG produced 500 lbs. more milk than cohorts not obtaining IgG, but they were 1,500 lbs. inferior in production to contemporaries receiving the 108 mg/ml concentration of IgG. Interestingly, the lactation response was still linear at 108 mg/ml. The question begging for an answer is how high could we go with this physiological response?
Figure 1. First lactation milk in relation to concentration of IgG 24 h after birth (DeNise et al., 1989).
Figure 2 portrays lactational performance of Brown Swiss calves fed 2 L or 4 L colostrum (highest quality) within the first hour of life. Data summarize first and second lactations for the Swiss calves that became lactating cows. Overall, for both lactations, about 5,500 more lbs. of milk resulted comparing 4L to 2L fed calves.
Figure 2. Lactation performance of Brown Swiss cows fed 2 or 4 L of colostrum at birth (Faber et al., 2005).
Data from Figure 3 confirm that accelerated raising programs ultimately contribute to first lactation increase of 1,000 to 2,000 lbs. compared to herdmates raised in a conventional manner. Collectively, data from Figures 1, 2, and 3 support how important it is to ensure that calves get off to a good start early in life because downstream paybacks are large.
Figure 3. First-lactation data for heifers fed either conventional or intensified milk replacer programs as calves in 2 trials (Drackely et al., 2007).
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