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Calf Health: Looking Towards the Future

We all know the importance of the first few hours of a calf’s life, especially when it comes to colostrum intake. Last year we posted an article about the importance of the 3 Q’s of colostrum: Quantity, Quality, and Quickly.  If you need a refresher, just follow this link to the article: https://southwestanimalhealthcentre.ca/blog/b_78948_keeping_calves_healthy_part_2_colostrum_management.html

 Calves that do not receive adequate colostrum are known to be at greater risk for calf hood diseases such as scours and navel ill, but as it turns out, the influence of colostrum is much broader than just immunity, and carries forward throughout an animal’s development. Studies have been done showing that calves with excellent passive transfer are healthier, have hastened reproductive development, and are more likely to be retained in the cow herd. This is because there are hormones and other immune cells in colostrum that trigger growth and development. For example, leptin, a hormone found in fresh colostrum acts to reduce the expression of stress receptor proteins in calves. So calves with good colostrum intake will be less susceptible to stress than calves with poor colostrum intake. Unfortunately, these hormones are not present in dried commercial colostrum, and so it is important that calves get as much fresh colostrum as possible.

This influence of external factors on the expression (or activation) of certain genes is termed epi-genetics, and it applies throughout an animal’s life, however, the first 70 days of life are of particular importance when programming the calf to reach its maximum health and production potential. Experts say the goal should be for a calf’s birth weight to approximately double in the first 56 days of life. In order to achieve this we must optimize peri-natal calf health, because sickness during this important time has a negative impact on future productivity. For example, calves treated for pneumonia in the first 3 months of life are significantly more likely to be unhealthy in the feedlot, and heifers are more likely to experience dystocia during their first calving.

The purpose of this article is to introduce the concept of peri-natal programming, and to get you thinking about the importance of calf health in the first few months of life. More than just reducing sickness and death, your calf health practices can have a direct impact on the future productivity of your herd!

Please consider reviewing your calving and biosecurity practices with your local veterinarian before the 2018 calving season.

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