Busting myths about what impacts Colostrum transfer in calves



Franklin Vets, in conjunction with the Franklin Vet Club Trust, the Tuakau Saleyards, local stock agents and farmers, conducted a study over the autumn and spring of 2016 to determine the level of passive immunity transferred to new-born calves via colostrum, and the factors that had impacted these levels. 

The study included taking blood samples from over 2000 calves presented at the sales, questioning the 140 farmers, and collecting weather data.

The results gave an interesting insight into the key factors associated with colostrum transfer status, and Dr David Hawkins, Veterinarian and Director at Franklin Vets, hopes the results will prove a valuable tool for farmers.

“Our investigations showed that one in three calves tested did not get enough colostrum, resulting in a failure in passive transfer of immunity (FPTI). Colostrum is essential to calves as it contains the antibodies necessary to provide them with protection from disease. Therefore, a calf with more immunity is going to be healthier," says Dr Hawkins.
“Higher average temperatures and less severe rain events like the weather we normally see in the autumn, resulted in better passive transfer of immunity, than those born in the colder, wetter weather of spring.”

Dr Hawkins says it makes sense that calves born on warm, dry days are going to be more energetic, and therefore more likely to suckle early. Therefore, giving an early colostrum feed to calves born on cold, wet days in the spring could lift overall passive transfer of immunity rates and reduce disease. 

Over 95% of farmers reported picking up calves only once a day, meaning that the first human administered feed is given well after the critical window of the first six hours. For tubing with high quality colostrum to make a difference, it should be done early (less than six hours) for the best outcome.
The farm where the calves came from had a marked impact on the number of calves receiving adequate passive transfer of immunity. Dr Hawkins encourages all farms to undertake simple blood tests to identify the farm’s level of FPTI, and a review of systems if the results are poor.

Calves that came from farms using a rotavirus vaccination for their cows were associated with better colostrum transfer, highlighting the practical benefit of herd vaccination.

Factors revealed in this study do not to affect FPTI levels included whether a calf was retained at home or went to the sales, was born late or early in the calving period, was male or female, or was fed colostrum or not.

This suggests that farms are equally effective or ineffective over the calving period and that calves going to the sales are given the same levels of colostrum transfer as those staying at home.
In summary, the key findings from this study are that:
•       1 in 3 dairy calves does not get enough colostrum
•       Autumn born calves have better colostrum intakes
•       Temperature and weather has an effect so be vigilant on cold wet days 
•       Tubing with high quality colostrum should be done early (<6hrs) for best outcome
•       Farm effects appear to be repeatable so identify your farm’s level of FPTI and review your systems
•       Vaccination of cows with rotavirus vaccines is associated with better colostrum transfer.
Franklin Vets would like to acknowledge the farmers and saleyard staff involved in this study, and the Franklin Vet Club Trust for its ongoing support.

CAPTION:  Dr David Hawkins, Veterinarian and Director at Franklin Vets hopes the results from their recent study will prove a valuable tool for farmers.

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