Beef Magazine is part of the Informa Markets Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them. Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 8860726.

Sitemap


Articles from 2008 In February


Temporary Fencing for Controlled Grazing

Temporary Fencing for Controlled Grazing

FENCING TIP OF THE MONTH
Sponsored Content by Gallagher Animal Management Systems

Controlled grazing, intensive grazing, rotation grazing, managed grazing or managed intensive grazing…

Some say it originated more than 200 years ago, others say it’s barely 30 years old. Only one indisputable fact reamins… it isn’t possible without electric fencing.

Althought it’s essential, it isn’t complicated. When a permeter fence is already in place and still effective, it’s possible to get all the electric fence components you need for a few hundred dollars.

Temporary fencing can also be used in feedlots to prevent damage to plant life by controlling livestock.

The purchase should include a portable reel for easy handling of the wire, treadin posts, volt meter, solar-powered energizer with battery, and sufficient length of polywire or polytape. Because of it’s greater visability, polytape is preferred in some application.

Cattle can easily be contained with a single strand of electric polytape or polywire for controlled grazing.

The polytape/polywire should be run at the height of a cow’s head and in a cow/calf operation, a second strand is necessary at the height of the calf’s head.

It is essential that the cattle be “trained” to the electric fence before the rotating from paddock-to-paddock begins. This can be done by installing a short section of electric fence, a single hot wire is sufficient, near the water source.

We Weren't Wrong; We Looked At The Wrong Things

That headline is how one cattleman characterized his failure to anticipate the changes that occurred in this industry the last couple of years. Looking back, he was exactly right, and it's a lesson for all of us.

I've researched to try to find those who predicted the ethanol boom and $5/corn, even just a couple of years back, but I could find no really credible voice making those claims. I still remember one feedyard operator telling me he totally missed the run-up in corn that started that fall but took comfort in the fact all his competition, as well as the huge grain complexes, corn farmers, and even the ethanol plants, also missed the signs. The mortgage crisis, oil prices, the value of the dollar, and the overall economy, while not as sudden as the ethanol boon, were not anticipated to change to the degree that they have.

The lesson for the industry is that we tend to rely on actual facts and data, when the political climate has been the real key.

  • Using a classic cost/benefit analysis, look at the value of ethanol, its cost of production and the like. While you might conclude some type of government support, who would foresee legislation mandating 36 billion gals. of biofuels and 12 billion gals. of corn-based ethanol? The facts and the logic were irrelevant to the strength of the political dynamics.
  • For five months, the fundamentals of the economy looked to be relatively strong. Few economists would have predicted a major recession or the need for a $150-billion stimulus package. But it was an election year, and the combination led to a decline in consumer confidence and the fixes to bolster it.
  • Who would have predicted a Hallmark/Westland fiasco, except for those respectful of the commitment of the Humane Society of the U.S. to the destruction of our industry?
The point of these examples is that we tend to be too internally focused, too industry-focused, and rely too heavily on facts vs. perception. The real change in our industry is being driven by negotiations between governments, public perception, consumer movements and political motivations.

If you adopted the industry's November 2003 strategic vision of being a low-cost producer of high-quality corn-fed beef in a thriving global marketplace, you were likely 100% right -- looking at all the pertinent facts. Less than five years later, however, you have to be rethinking that very foundation and all the decisions you made based on those assumptions.

I had the privilege several years ago of serving on the industry's Long Range Planning Task Force. The experts built key underlying assumptions for the industry, some of which have since proven seriously flawed. When one asks why, it's because we missed the one key outside source of information we needed -- someone who truly understood the political dynamics that occur in the pursuit of power and re-election.

The reversal of support for free trade, the ethanol mandates, the difficulty of reopening trade with Korea/Japan, etc., could only been predicted by someone truly knowledgeable of the political dynamics and winds of change blowing in this country and around the world. Those of us who profess to believe in free markets and capitalism are guilty of trying to base our predictions upon the presupposition that free markets and capitalism exist. But they exist only in the context of an environment that has seen government intrusion grow exponentially over time. Thus, the government is the key driver in shaping the future, and not the free hand of the marketplace.

This Hallmark Greeting Is A Real Tear Jerker

The Hallmark/Westland story continues to garner headlines on a whole range of issues.

  • The Humane Society of the U.S. (HSUS) announced its intention to sue USDA over the agency's enforcement of the downer-cow issue.
  • Congress grilled HSUS representatives over its decision not to inform USDA of their evidence of mishandling, instead allowing it to continue for some time.
  • HSUS also strongly hinted that additional videos from other undercover activities might be forthcoming.

There were also other economic issues emerging surrounding the recall. For one, Hallmark/Westland isn't expected to reopen for business, but the firm provided product to lots of different companies, some of which appear to have been used in other products. Thus, the speculation has increased that the recall might extend to a far greater line of products than initially expected.
The industry's responses to this crisis have been diverse. Everyone appreciates that animal abuse should never happen and action must be taken to ensure it. Certainly, we know the type of abuse documented by HSUS is so rare as to seem almost nonexistent, but it also has highlighted how important animal welfare is to this industry and how carefully we must maintain and protect consumer confidence in the beef supply chain.

Not surprisingly, I received a lot of mail this week from cattlemen angry about the situation. They feel their industry and livelihood is being hurt by entities over which they have no control or influence.

Some writers expressed resentment against the dairy sector, pointing out that, whether it be drug-residue issues, BSE or downer cows, a disproportionate number of the problems have involved dairy cattle.

There was also a lot of anger toward the packing industry. Whether it be bone fragments in Pacific Rim shipments, bacterial contaminations, or this latest animal-abuse incident, we see our industry taking hits with little or no way to prevent it. The frustration is understandable.

The industry -- via the National Cattlemen's Beef Association (NCBA), the checkoff and our Beef Quality Assurance efforts and other programs -- has moved aggressively over the years to improve product safety and handling. Still, NCBA has been criticized, not for its response or positions, but its perceived inability to influence USDA to adopt a more sensible approach than what's been promulgated.

While some of these concerns aren't without merit, the challenge for the industry is how to proactively address them. The real danger is in once again allowing ourselves to blame other segments and organizations for the failures and, in the process, convince ourselves that we aren't a vital part of the solution.

Sit down with a person from San Francisco or New York on a cross-country plane flight and start talking about animal welfare. You'll discover that many of the things we see as acceptable and proper, aren't viewed that way by most of the people who buy our product.

It's tempting to blame the media response, USDA's response, NCBA's inability to influence the outcome, the dairy industry, or the packing segment for the problem.

I know the level of stewardship cattlemen take of the land and their animals. Last winter, I watched my neighbors devote 20 hours daily in fighting Mother Nature to take care of their animals in one of the most severe winters on record.

Still, I'd like to ask you if you have personally witnessed something that -- if videotaped and not presented in proper perspective -- would be considered by the average consumer to be cruel or inhumane treatment? If someone secretly videotaped you, could they cherry-pick a few minutes out of the thousands of hours of footage to paint a negative picture of your stewardship?

If you understand that an electrical prod, or even the poke of a sorting stick, appears to be unacceptable to the average consumer, then most producers know those questions are meant to be largely rhetorical in nature.

But we have to accept that the media will continue to sensationalize any breakdown in the food-supply chain. They're not interested in the fact our food supply is the safest, most abundant and cost effective in the world; they make their living by finding or creating crisis.

We must understand that USDA is a government bureaucracy, and it's engaged in a never-ending battle to increase its power, influence and share of taxpayer dollars. That means it won't always act in the best interest of consumers nor industry, but will tailor its response to the political climate of the day.

I understand that frustration over BSE, country-of-origin labeling, mandatory price reporting and the like has driven criticism of USDA into an industry staple. But keep in mind that USDA is criticized by consumer groups in a far more brutal and unwavering way, for not being tougher on ag.

Our industry must accept the fact that the animal-welfare issue has been elevated to a level equal to environmental issues and food safety. We not only must effectively tell our story but prevent anything that can be construed as a failure. That means embracing both sides of the coin with equal vigilance.

What happened at Hallmark should never have happened. It's inexcusable. Those cows should never have left the dairy in that condition. But all of us have the responsibility to ensure sure it's not repeated.

Calf Health Depends On The First 12 Hours

Just how important are the first 12 hours of a calf's life? Extremely, says Dave Smith, University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension veterinarian. "Those first 12 hours set them up for success or failure all the way through their life," he says.

Calves that die within this 12-hour period are considered stillborn, and it's still a major problem impacting ranchers. National Animal Health Monitoring System (NAHMS) data from 1997 indicates stillbirths and neonatal-calf deaths accounted for 4.3% of the 1996 calf crop. If calves don't make it through this period, the buck literally stops here.

Producers need to understand that when a calf is born, it has an immune system that's not armed to fight infections. The only antibody disease protection that calf will have for the first few weeks of life comes from the passive immunity passed to it in its mother's colostrum, explains Glenn Selk, Oklahoma State University Extension animal reproduction specialist. Without that vitally important milk, calves have what is called "failure of passive transfer."

U.S. Meat Animal Research Center (USMARC) data found that when compared to calves with adequate passive immunity, calves with inadequate levels had:

  • 5.4 times greater risk of pre-weaning death,
  • 6.4 times greater risk of sickness in the first 28 days of life,
  • 3.2 times greater risk of sickness prior to weaning, and
  • 3 times greater risk of being sick in the feedlot.
Passive-immune status affects growth rates, too. Sickness in the first 28 days of life was associated with a 35-lb. lower expected weaning weight, while respiratory disease in the feedlot resulted in a 0.09-lb. lower average daily gain.

Health begins with the first meal. Mother's first milk, or colostrum, is full of immunoglobulins -- or antibodies. The calf's ability to absorb antibodies, which are very large proteins, is dependent upon intestinal closure. From the moment a calf is born, the clock is ticking on its ability to absorb larger proteins due to sloughing of cells within the calf's lower gut. The gradual loss of these cells occurs over 1-2 days (Table 1.)

"At six hours of age, we're down to absorbing something in the neighborhood of two-thirds of what they could have absorbed at birth," Selk says. "So getting that first milk into the calf is extremely important -- the sooner, the better."

Selk cautions, however, that a producer's good intentions can speed the rate of intestinal closure. One way is feeding whole milk (without antibodies) to the calf for its first feeding, followed by a bottle of colostrum 6-12 hours later.

"That calf's ability to absorb the immunoglobulins out of the colostrum in the second feeding is greatly reduced from what it would have been if he hadn't gotten the whole milk to start with," Selk says.

"It's extremely important that the calf's first meal contain immunoglobulins. While each subsequent meal also would contain some immunoglobulins, that calf's ability to absorb them declines with each meal," he adds.

The volume of antibodies in colostrum can vary by cow. While a beef cow produces less milk volume than a dairy cow, for instance, the concentration of immunoglobulins is generally higher, Selk points out. In most cases, mature cows produce more antibodies in their colostrum than heifers.

Supplementing milk. Ranchers must intervene in cases where calves don't nurse on their own. Natural colostrum is superior to colostrum supplements and replacements, Smith says. While these artificial products can raise calves' antibody levels, their performance pales in comparison to that of real colostrum because there are fewer immunoglobulins and they are not matched to the pathogens in the herd. "The technology is still behind Mother Nature," Selk adds.

Acquiring, storing and thawing natural colostrum, however, does present management challenges.

Natural colostrum isn't as readily available as when local dairies were more abundant. Then, producers could work out a deal with dairy producers to capture some colostrum from the first milking of postpartum dairy cows (which isn't allowed in the milk line).

But "free" colostrum is hard to find today. Nonetheless, Selk and Smith caution producers seeking dairy colostrum to check out the dairy's health status. "In particular, I'd like to know if the dairy has had any Johne's disease incidence because it can be transferred via colostrum," Selk says.

A better source is stored colostrum from your own herd. Selk recommends obtaining colostrum only from cows that can be handled safely in such a personal way.

In fact, the challenges associated with acquiring, freezing and thawing colostrum (see "Some Tips For Storing And Thawing Colostrum," elsewhere in this newsletter) is why producers generally turn to colostral substitutes, which can be as convenient as mixing a powder into a warm liquid and feeding it to the calf. Such supplements are readily available at livestock supply stores.

At a minimum, Selk recommends beef producers supplement a normal-sized beef calf (80 lbs.) with two quarts of natural colostrum/feeding, and again 12 hours later.

"If the calf can take another half or three-quarters of a quart, more power to him -- the more the merrier," Selk says.

For colostral supplements, producers should follow directions closely, and never split a bag between two calves. "You'll under-nourish both calves rather than take good care of one," Selk says.

Other factors include difficult birth, weather and equipment.

Difficult birth. Calves undergoing a difficult birth are subjected to uterine contractions and asphyxiation when the umbilical cord "shuts off," Selk explains. Known as respiratory acidosis, the body builds up carbon dioxide (a result of lack of oxygen) and lactic acid. Such calves are unlikely to get up and nurse on their own.

"An acidotic calf's gut has an impaired ability to absorb antibodies, even if they're available to him," Selk says. While the calf may be saved, its state of limited immunity makes it vulnerable to disease. His advice is "get colostrum into the calf, as much as it can absorb."

Weather. As soon as a calf hits the ground, weather is often its first adversary. Because they're unable to regulate their body temperatures, calves are susceptible to extreme cold and heat.

In temperatures less than 20°F, calves face frostbite and hypothermia. Research also indicates that calves that are hypothermic or extremely cold-stressed absorb antibodies more poorly.

Meanwhile, temperatures in the upper 80s and 90s can lead to an over-warmed calf that gets dehydrated.

Clean equipment. "Obstetrical equipment needs hot, soapy water because all the organic material must be washed off," Smith says. "Topical disinfectants won't do the job."

On tube feeders, mucus and saliva that coat the tube must be physically washed off, as does the milk and colostrum inside it. Smith uses a brush in tough-to-reach areas of feeders. Don't forget to air-dry the feeder between feedings.

Diluted liquid bleach is a great disinfectant, but can harm clothes. Chemical disinfectants like Nolvasan and Roccal do an effective job with less risk to clothes, but the water must be hot and soapy, Smith says.

Table 1. Effect of time of colostrum feeding (hours after birth) on total immunoglobulin absorption in baby calves.
Time of feeding
(hours after birth)
Plasma concentration
(mg/ml) 24 hours
after feeding
Absorption (%)
6 52.7 66
12 37.5 47
24 9.27 12
36 5.4 7
48 4.8 6

KSU Testing Web-Based Smoke Management System

Every spring, smoke from prescribed burns on Kansas' Flint Hills has the potential to affect air quality in eastern Kansas and surrounding states. But a new method of smoke modeling being researched at Kansas State University (KSU) could help manage the extent and impact of smoke plumes.

A KSU team led by Jay Ham, professor of agronomy, is adapting BlueSkyRAINS, a web-based information system used in the Pacific Northwest to monitor smoke from prescribed forest burns, to work for prairie burns. Ham, who specializes in environmental physics and micrometeorology, says there are two components to BlueSkyRAINS.

BlueSky is a computer model developed by the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) to predict the impacts of smoke from prescribed, wildland and ag fires. RAINS (Rapid Access Information System) is a Geographic Information System product of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). USFS merged the two products into BlueSkyRAINS.

The computer modeling system has the potential to be a valuable aid to rangeland managers in Kansas, where the use of controlled fire is critical, Ham said.

By using BlueSkyRAINS, land managers, regulators and the general public can view the potential smoke impacts from regional burning activities before the fires occur. With input such as the location, time of day and acreage to be burned, the system animates the projected smoke plume. It can determine downwind smoke concentrations, potential public health alerts, visibility, if roads may be affected, and other effects, Ham says.

"These predictions help managers make the best decision about when to burn," Ham says. He and his fellow researchers are funded by a three-year grant to research the potential of BlueSkyRAINS in a prairie ecosystem.

Learn more about BlueSkyRAINS at www.blueskyrains.org.
-- KSU news release

When It Comes To Calving, Success Is In The Planning

Planning for calving is a lot like formulating a battle plan. It can fall apart when the first shot is fired, but preparation and planning for contingencies often makes for the most optimum results.

"Successful calving seasons are planned in advance, with consideration for minimizing the risks of the known hazards of this phase of cattle production," says Dave Smith, University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL) Extension veterinarian. These include minimizing the risks of birthing, environment and disease.

Minimize birthing risks. "Successful calving occurs when a live calf is born without complications to the calf or the dam," Smith says.

The calf factors in dystocia are generally related to size, posture and presentation of the birthing calf. The consequences can be metabolic or physical injury, which can result in death during or after birth.

Meanwhile, the dystocia factors related to the dam are her age, pelvic size and metabolic health. Heifers tend to have more problems with dystocia owing to their more immature stage of development.

There are long- and near-term strategies for preventing birthing problems, Smith says. The long-term strategies include selecting for calving ease and pelvic size, and implementing sound heifer breeding and development programs.

Near-term strategies include:

  • Providing exercise and balanced nutrition to heifers and cows prior to and after calving,
  • frequent monitoring of calving progress;
  • early and appropriate calving assistance;
  • ready access to the appropriate tools for calving assistance;
  • copious use of lubricants; and
  • attention to sanitation (e.g., use of soap and water) during birthing.

Evaluate the environment. Among the environmental factors presenting dangers to new calves are weather extremes, crowding, predators and physical sources of injury, Smith says.

At birth, calves have limited ability to regulate their body temperature. Thus, extremes of heat or cold present a risk for hyperthermia, or hypothermia, respectively. That's especially true when accompanied by wet and muddy or dry and dusty conditions.

"In addition, crowded conditions increase chances for injury from trampling or butting by other cattle, as well as increased opportunities for pathogen exposure," he says.

Physical hazards in the calving environment are another source of calf injury. These include protruding nails, broken posts, loose wire, holes, steep embankments, standing water, various sources of electricity, and toxins (such as from lead batteries or chemical containers discarded in or near calving facilities or on pastures), Smith says.

While cows are less susceptible to weather stresses than their calves, dystocia or metabolic disease increase their risk of hypothermia or hyperthermia. At the time surrounding calving, cows also may be more likely to slip and fall, a likelihood exacerbated by floor surfaces with steep slopes or slippery traction due to snow, ice or mud.

"In addition, cows calving near ditches and streams or other low spots are at risk to fall or not be able to rise after lying down," Smith says. "As with calves, cows may be injured by a variety of physical hazards that may be present in the calving environment."

The risk of injury to cow or calf can be minimized, however, by paying attention to environmental conditions. Long-term strategies include breeding so that calving occurs during favorable weather conditions, and planning for calving facilities with minimal physical hazards. Near-term strategies include a pre-calving survey of the facilities for potential sources of injury, as well as routine surveillance of the herd during the calving season.

Minimize disease risks. Diarrhea, commonly called scours, is one of the most likely causes of sickness and death in young calves. It's a complex disease -- an interrelationship between agent, host and environmental factors.


Even calves that are immunologically well-protected can be overcome by a sufficient level of exposure to a pathogen. That's why keeping the environment clean has long been recognized as important for controlling calf diarrhea, Smith says.

While adult cows are likely the source of scours pathogens from year to year, the average dose-load of pathogen exposure to calves tends to increase over a calving season. That's because calves infected earlier serve as pathogen-multipliers and become the primary source of exposure to younger, susceptible calves.

"This multiplier effect can result in high calf infectivity and widespread environmental contamination with pathogens," Smith says. That's why "biocontainment" is important in controlling calf diarrhea.

That's the idea behind the UNL-developed Sandhills Calving System (SCS). Named after the Sandhills area of north-central Nebraska where it was tested, SCS utilizes a series of calving pastures to minimize newborn calves' contact with disease agents. The idea is to minimize both the disease load and newborns' exposure to the disease agents until their immune systems have sufficiently matured to better withstand them.

"We're trying to recreate the conditions of the first week of calving season during each of the remaining weeks of the calving season. We want a clean calving area without the presence of older calves that may be shedding pathogens," Smith says. "I like to say we're creating eight, one-week seasons rather than one, eight-week season."

SCS consists of a series of large contiguous pastures. Learn more about the SCS system at: vetext.unl.edu/publications.shtml?to=Beef. Here's how it works:

  • Cows are turned into the first calving pasture as soon as the first calves are born, and calving continues for two weeks.
  • After two weeks, the cows that haven't calved are moved to Pasture 2, with cow-calf pairs remaining behind in Pasture 1.
  • After a week of calving in Pasture 2, the cows that haven't calved are moved to Pasture 3, and cow-calf pairs born in Pasture 2 remain in Pasture 2.
  • With each subsequent week, cows that haven't calved are moved to a new pasture, and pairs remain in their pasture of birth.
The result, Smith says, is multiple pastures, each with calves within one week of age of each other. Cattle from different pastures can be commingled after the youngest calf is four weeks of age.

This age segregation prevents transfer of pathogens from older to younger calves. Meanwhile, moving pregnant cows to new calving pastures minimizes the pathogen load in the environment, as well as a newborn calf's contact time with those pathogens.

"Ranchers using the system have observed meaningful and sustained reductions in sickness and death due to calf scours, and greatly reduced use of medications," Smith says. He adds that although SCS was tested and initially adopted in ranches typical of the Nebraska Sandhills, the principles on which it's based are widely applicable.

Smith says the SCS principles of limiting calf exposure to pathogens also apply to calving barns. "A good strategy is to be judicious in their use. Try not to use them when the weather is favorable for outside calving," he says.

Horse Nutrition Taught Online

Michigan State University offers an online course covering horse nutrition basics such as nutritional requirements, diseases affecting nutrition, feeding management, evaluating and balancing a ration and how horse behavior factors into feeding. The course, offered at www.myhorseuniversity.com, is estimated to take 8-10 hours to complete and costs $200. The book, Nutrient Requirements of Horses, is a supplement to the course. It consists of information compiled by the Committee on Nutrient Requirements of Horses and the National Research Council. It can be purchased separately from MSU for $99, or as part of a package included with the cost of the course at $280. The website also includes horse information on breeding and selection and vaccination. For more information visit http://www.myhorseuniversity.com.

Strategic planning and management for your beef entity

A recently developed publication outlines strategy and planning for livestock producers in a time of accelerating change.

South Dakota State University publication EC924, “Strategic and Scenario Planning in Ranching: Managing Risk in Dynamic Times,” is available at this link: http://agbiopubs.sdstate.edu/articles/EC924.pdf.

The publication is the second in a series and includes a Balanced Scorecard workbook that producers can use to develop their own strategic plans. The workbook is arranged over 10 steps:

Step 1: Assess current situation and inventory of ranch resources.
Step 2: Conduct a strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats (SWOT) analysis.
Step 3: Establish a vision for the ranch business.
Step 4: Do an analysis of where the operation is and where the operators “dream of being” in the future.
Step 5: Develop alternative strategies to close the gap.
Step 6: Describe multiple scenarios.
Step 7: Select and evaluate the most-probable scenarios.
Step 8: Determine strategies with the highest likelihood of success.
Step 9: Implement the strategic plan.
Step 10: Monitor performance with the Balanced Scorecard.

SDSU Extension Range Specialist Roger Gates, Extension Area Management Specialists Jack Davis and Agustin Arzeno, Extension Ranch Economist Martin Beutler, and Texas A&M University at Kingsville associate professor Barry Dunn wrote the publication.

Studies show colostrum has far-reaching impact

Most cattle producers are aware that getting colostrum into the calf immediately is a critical step toward building the calf’s immunity and ability to survive and thrive.

But newer research is starting to quantify just how far-reaching the effects of colostrum are to the future performance of a calf.
“The immune system starts with colostrum when the calf is born. We are finding that proper calving time management, which includes nutrition for the cows and calves getting immediate and adequate colostrum, can help insure lower pre-weaning morbidity,” says Rachel Endecott, Extension beef cattle specialist with Montana State University.

She cites a Nebraska study that followed 1,568 calves from birth through the feedlot. It found that calves without adequate passive immunity from colostrum were twice as likely to get sick and five times more likely to die pre-weaning. That also translated to higher feedlot mortality among those calves that failed to get adequate colostrum as a newborn.

To demonstrate the affect colostrum may have on heifer performance, Endecott cites an Arizona study conducted with dairy heifers that showed higher culling rates during first lactation in heifers that were classified as having a failure of passive immunity from colostrum as a newborn calf.

Endecott says, “This might indicate some relationship between colostrum intake and cow longevity in the herd if those females are kept as a replacement. But this is only one study, and data is limited on the beef side.”

Further emphasizing the importance of colostrum, Endecott says research indicates not all colostrum is the same. An Idaho experiment with first-calf beef heifers looked at the quality of colostrum when females were fed differing levels of protein concentration prior to calving. The study found that cows fed low protein diets prior to calving had calves that were less able to absorb the immunoglobulins in colostrum compared to calves from dams fed adequate protein before calving. Thus, Endecott says cow nutrition also becomes critical for producing colostrum to benefit newborn calves.

The rule of thumb is that calves need colostrum as soon as possible in the first 24 hours of life, which is when they have the ability to absorb antibodies directly through their gut wall and into the blood stream. The gut wall ‘closes’ by the end of that 24-hour period. Calves can absorb more antibodies in the first one to two hours after birth than they can 20 to 24 hours after birth.