The preweaning stage is the perfect opportunity to programme heifers for much greater mammary mass, fostering the ability to produce and secrete more milk in the future. In fact, over 1,500 genes within the functional tissue of the mammary gland can be influenced.
We all get bored of hearing about colostrum management, and yet, why are we still getting it so wrong? We continually see mortality and morbidity rates at the same levels they were 15 to 20 years ago (Heinrichs and Jones, 2010).
Research carried out 20 years ago identified that calves fed 4L of colostrum vs 2L produced 11% more milk in their first lactation. This difference then grew by 17% during their second lactation!
Feeding 4L of colostrum vs 2L increases first lactation production by 11%
It would seem that most now recognise the need to feed more colostrum, with many of us hitting the 10% of birth weight goal. However, what we are failing miserably at is the notion of ensuring that we only feed clean colostrum.
Dirty colostrum (bacterial-laden) is not only a direct problem for the calf (resulting in scour and increasing rearing costs), but feeding dirty colostrum greatly reduces antibody absorption. Hygiene is key, proper cleaning of teats and the sanitisation of milking equipment can greatly reduce the risk of contaminating colostrum. In addition, ensuring the feeding tools (stomach tuber, bucket and teat etc.) are properly disinfected before each use will also greatly reduce the bacterial load. Colostrum must be stored responsibly, whether in the fridge or freezer, in ‘Store and Thaw’ colostrum bags specifically designed for the job and not in pop bottles!
Pasteurising colostrum is also a useful tool in helping to tackle that bacterial load, research has shown that pasteurising colostrum does increase IgG absorption. However, it should not be used as the easy way out, you must ensure that colostrum is harvested in the cleanest way possible, even if it is intended for pasteurisation.
There’s more to colostrum than just IgG
Colostrum has been found to contain over 200 bioactive compounds affecting growth, nutrient absorption and bacterial exclusion (Kertz, 2018).
Interestingly, lactoferrin, which is an antibacterial, is undetectable in milk but present at high levels in colostrum and so it is clear that the balance of components in colostrum are much higher than milk, made up mostly of hormones and widely recognized to promote growth (Kertz, 2018).
The latest research strongly indicates that high levels of nutrition, IgG and metabolic components may activate more genes which facilitate growth, health and subsequent milk production. Once you’ve made the decision to feed that heifer 4L of good quality colostrum, why not continue to implement those gold standard rearing practices?
Feeding for mammary development
Choosing to feed heifers better is like choosing between influencing over 1500 genes, or quite simply losing out on that genetic potential…for ever!
The pre-weaning period is a small yet hugely opportunistic window in that animal’s lifetime. You have the ability to set that animal up for greater mammary mass and increase her ability to produce more milk in the future, by simply choosing to feed a higher plane of nutrition. It is essential that this decision is made during the first 12 weeks of life, as the animals feed efficiency drops dramatically as it gets older.
Recent data has shown the mammary gland to be incredibly active in early life, growing in size over 60-fold in the first 90 days. From this, it is understood that early life mammary gland development may be critical for future productivity (Hoards, 2018)
Still not convinced? As part of the ground-breaking research undertaken at the LifeStart research centre in Holland, an investigation was carried out where calves were placed on a low vs high plane of nutrition (600g of milk replacer vs 1.3kg), and the results were phenomenal:
It is clear that an elevated plane of nutrition leads to higher daily live weight gains, but also organ development. Animals fed on a higher plane of nutrition, reach their genetic potential, are healthier, and have a better immune status than calves on restricted diets.
If coupled with the proper administration of colostrum, farmers can capitalise on that all-important gene expression, ensuring that they are maximising their animal’s genetic potential. In return, they will have a healthier, larger and more productive animal entering the parlour at 22-24 months old.
For colostrum management protocols and feeding protocols please contact your local calf specialist.