Calves must nurse right away

Calves that don’t nurse promptly after birth are much more likely to become ill or die within the first weeks of life than calves that nurse right away.
That’s because the cow’s first milk—colostrum—is special, containing important ingredients that are vital to the calf’s health.
Colostrum serves as a laxative and gut stimulant to help the calf pass its first bowel movements, which consists of a dark sticky substance called meconium.
The laxative effect of the colostrum gets it moving.
Colostrum also contains a very rich, creamy fat that is easily digested and high in energy—an ideal first meal for a calf learning to get up and around and needing to keep warm.
The calf that gets right up and nurses is more vigorous, and able to stay warmer in the cold weather, than the one that has not yet nursed.
Especially important to the newborn calf are the antibodies in the colostrum. Unlike a human baby that picks up much of its immunity while still in the womb, the calf comes into the world completely vulnerable to disease and has to get its immunities through its mother’s colostrum.
This temporary (passive) immunity usually lasts several weeks—until the calf’s own immune system becomes mature enough to start making its own antibodies.
During a cow’s life, she comes into contact with a number of infectious organisms. If she has encountered a specific disease and has developed antibodies against it, she has what’s called a natural immunity.
She also can develop immunities through vaccination.
If her vaccinations are up to date, she will have antibodies against those specific diseases—and those antibodies also will be in her colostrum to protect her calf as soon as it nurses.
Timing is crucial for obtaining adequate disease protection. A calf that gets no colostrum, or that doesn’t nurse until it is several hours old, runs a high-risk of developing scours and/or pneumonia in the first weeks of life.
For a short while after birth, the calf has the ability to absorb antibodies from colostrum—directly into its own bloodstream—through the intestinal lining.
The optimum time for absorbing antibodies is during the first two hours after birth—before the intestinal wall begins to thicken. If the calf is later than that with its first nursing, it will get only a fraction of the antibodies it needs.
Studies have shown that by the time a calf is four hours old, it has lost about 75 percent of its ability to absorb colostral antibodies.
After that, the absorption rate diminishes even more rapidly.
< *c>Dates to remember
•March 17—Rainy River Feeder Finance Co-op annual meeting, 7:30 p.m., Stratton.

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