While most people are thinking of holiday plans and family get-togethers, many beef producers are concerned with the rising price of feed ingredients and how winter storms are impacting their cowherds. As a result, this is the time of year when calls come in from producers who are shocked by current corn and by-product prices, where they are. With nearly 90% of fetal growth occurring in the last three months of the cow's pregnancy, we look at body condition score as one of the best measures of how the cow will perform during calving, but late-gestation cow nutrition is important for the health of the newborn calf, too, because the nutrition of the cow impacts the eventual calf's immune status and survivability.
In cattle, the survival of the calf is dependent on its receiving high-quality colostrum within the first 24 hours of life, because the structure of the placenta prevents the fetus from receiving immunoglobulins (IgG) in utero. This is very different from most species, such as humans, which receive IgG across the placenta, and are born with the ability to mount an immune response to pathogens. As a result, newborn calves can't fight a bacterial or viral challenge until they have acquired passive immunity through the IgG in colostrum. The IgG are a specialized form of antibodies, gamma globulin proteins, that fight bacterial and viral infections by binding to pathogens and neutralizing them. With cattle, the newborn calf's small intestine can only absorb IgG during the first 24 hours of life.
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