Improved nutrition will act to boost immunity levels in young calves

The considerable daily fluctuations in temperatures of recent weeks are significantly increasing the respiratory challenges faced by calves across Northern Ireland. 

United Feeds’ nutritionist Jenny Hamilton takes up the story:

Retaining body heat can be a real challenge for young calves at the best of times. So the recent variations in temperatures, particularly those mild days but chilly nights can create additional health problems for these young animals.

This is especially so when other contributory factors such as wet bedding and housing that’s prone to drafts are already in play. Calves have quite a small lung capacity relative to their overall bodyweight, so respiratory problems and coughing can quickly appear when their immune system is compromised.

The lower critical temperature (LCT) of a calf is age dependent but will also be influenced by breed and bodyweight. Generally calves less than three weeks old have a LCT of 20°C, compared to calves three weeks old and over, which have a LCT of 10°C. 

If there is a period of sustained cold weather it’s important to recognise that calves will divert energy to keep warm. If that energy isn’t replaced, then growth rates will suffer while susceptibility to infection/disease will rise.

Calves spend 80-90% of their time lying down so providing ample, dry bedding in a draught-free environment will help the calf maintain body temperature, as will the use of calf coats. If growth rates are to be maintained extra feed may be required depending on external temperature, housing environment and calf age.

It is recommended to feed an extra 10g of CMR for every 1°C drop below the LCT – summarised in the table.

The LCT drops as calves get older as they’re heavier and should be eating more calf starter, providing direct energy but also heat produced from the ruminal processes will help keep the calf warm.

With immune function in mind United Feeds’ range of calf milk replacers benefit from the inclusion of two highly effective additives either as standard or on request. The first of these is Greenline Calf.  

“Greenline when included in either calf milk replacer or calf starter concentrate will stimulate intakes,” Jenny further explained. This is achieved courtesy of specific sugars, a ‘mother smell’ and natural products of rumen microbial activity. This combination of constituents acts to accelerate gastrointestinal tract development and stimulate higher feed intakes.

“The inclusion of specific sugars, short chain fatty acids, yeast, prebiotics and oxygen scavengers create an optimal rumen environment for epithelial development and microbial growth, increasing rumen function through both absorptive capacity and efficiency.

“In addition, Greenline contains additives for the nutritional maintenance of the immune system. This is achieved through stimulation of the calf’s own immune cells to defend against invading organisms. These additives also support a healthy digestive system through an increase in the defensive mucus intestinal lining, inhibition of bacterial attachment and deactivation of mycotoxins.

Furthermore, Greenline contains products that help growth and development by supporting energy metabolism, protein synthesis, DNA methylation and gene expression. These processes are highly active in growing young calves and benefit from nutritional support. Ultimately Greenline increases the calves feed conversion ratio, optimizing growth performance and liveweight gain.

Pulmo+ is another milk replacer additive that has been thoroughly proven under the management conditions that prevail on farms across Northern Ireland. The product comprises a combination of essential oils used to maintain the integrity of both the respiratory and intestinal tracts.

Jenny Hamilton again, “Pulmo+ acts in a variety of ways to boost natural immune defences. Firstly from the respiratory point of view, the expectorant activity of the essential oils increases mucus secretion, aiding in the removal of foreign bodies. It enhances localised immunoglobulin production within the lungs and provides specific antibacterial activity enabling the calf to respond faster to an infection. The surfactant effect on the surface of the lungs acts as a decongestant, facilitating easier breathing.

From a gasto-intestinal perspective it disrupts protozoa development, reducing the threat of Coccidiosis and Cryptosporidia and has anti-inflammatory properties to both reduce issues occurring and quicken recovery time in the event of an infection, helping to maintain nutrient absorption and feed conversion so growth rates continue.

She concluded:

“Efficient calf rearing is at the very heart of successful dairy farming and calf to beef management systems. The United Feeds’ advisory team is available to discuss the range of proven calf milk replacers and rations available from the company.”     

Latest News & Events