Making deposits early with strong protocols can build immunity and limit exposure.
A savings account helps ensure you’ll be covered when an unexpected expense comes up. The same goes for a calf’s immune system. Investing in maintaining normal digestive health and a healthy immune system from day one by developing proper protocols helps prepare calves to get off to a healthy, fast start.
“Think of a newborn calf’s immune system like having $0 in a savings account,” says Rob Farruggio, a veterinarian with 27 years of experience at Jefferson Veterinary Clinic in Wisconsin. “You need to invest in that savings account to ensure calves are supported and can maintain normal digestive health from day one.”
Having strong protocols in place from the moment a calf is born will help build immunity and support a healthy start. Follow these steps to create and implement consistent newborn protocols on your farm:
First 48 hours of life
The first 48 hours after birth is the prime time to limit exposure to anything that could affect its immune system. Following consistent colostrum collection and delivery protocols is critical to building a strong immune system.
“By giving calves clean, quality colostrum, you’re giving them a deposit – that deposit is not only energy, but it’s their immune system for the next two to three weeks,” says Farruggio.
Include the following colostrum tips in your newborn protocols:
- Collect colostrum within 4 hours of calving.
- Test quality using a Brix refractometer or colostrum tester.
- Hand-feed 4 quarts within 2 hours (approximately 10% of calf body weight).
- Follow up with a second feeding 6-12 hours later.
Calf management in the first 48 hours also plays a role in immune system development.
“Make sure each calf gets dried and warmed up as quickly as possible, especially in colder months,” says Farruggio. “Get them away from the dirt in the calving pen and into a clean, dry environment with deep bedding.”
And don’t forget about dipping the navel with 7% iodine.
“I can’t tell you how many times I find farms aren’t dipping navels – they don’t understand the importance of it,” says Farruggio. “Navels are an open wound. The more you can attend to it, the less likely something will enter it and affect the immune system.”
Continuing to follow consistent feeding and cleaning protocols after the first 48 hours is crucial through day 21.
“This timeframe is when the calf’s immune system we’ve built up in the first 48 hours is starting to decline and its own immune system is ramping up,” says Farruggio. “During this convergence, we need to make sure the calf gets through as best they can.”
Avoid cutting corners
Cutting corners in following protocols is a common theme Farruggio sees on farms, especially during the winter months.
“It’s cold and you’re trying to feed milk as quickly as you can. But if the milk cools down too quickly, it could have a role in setting calves up for disease,” says Farruggio. “Once milk is below 100 degrees Fahrenheit, it slows down the rate of passage and pathogenic (bad) bacteria can come to life.”
Feed milk consistently:
- Ensure milk solids are the same from one feeding to the next.
- Deliver milk at 102 to 105 degrees Fahrenheit. Use a thermometer to test milk temperature from the first calf to the last calf fed.
- Keep feeding times consistent. Whether you’re feeding calves two or three times per day, keep the hours between each feeding the same.
Employ a solid cleaning and disinfecting protocol:
- Ensure all milk feeding equipment is rinsed then cleaned with a chlorinated alkaline detergent after each use, followed by a chlorine dioxide disinfectant.
- Verify cleaning protocol is working by using an ATP luminometer at least twice a year – you can work with your veterinarian to perform this task.
“Too often I’m called out to a farm for a scours issue and find the bucket used for feeding milk still had milk in it from an earlier feeding. Rather than using a clean bucket, drinking water was added on top of it,” says Farruggio. “Taking shortcuts like this will cost you more in the long run by adding extra time, labor and resources to treat these sick calves.”
Maintaining normal gut health pays
Even with strong management protocols, sometimes calves need additional security to ensure strong immune systems during this vulnerable period.
“Calves are constantly ingesting bacteria – whether from licking their hair coat, exposure to dirty feeding equipment or housing environment,” says Farruggio. “Adding products like a total eubiotics package to your calf protocols can help keep the gut in check.”
Eubiotics combine multiple ingredients to maintain gut health and support the protective layers of the GI tract. They typically include probiotics, prebiotics, organic acids and essential oils. A total eubiotics package also incorporates feed ingredients like egg proteins, specialized whey proteins, dried kelp, yucca schidigera and psyllium seed husk – all shown to support a healthy gut.
“What these feed ingredients do is enhance gut health and act as a sponge by soaking up the abnormal things that calf was exposed to,” says Farruggio. “It goes back to the savings account concept – by maintaining normal digestive health, you’re lowering the chances that calf’s savings account will take a hit or a withdrawal. This healthy gut supports overall wellness and may reduce the susceptibility to pneumonia.”
Following strong feeding and cleaning protocols will help calves keep a positive balance in their health savings account.
Learn more about maintaining normal gut health and supporting a healthy immune system with First Arrival® First Arrival® with Encrypt® calf powder, a total eubiotics package.