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Saving beef calves with science-backed colostrum care
USAgNet - 11/13/2023

The health of newborn beef calves may hinge on a factor well-known but not fully utilized: colostrum. Recent studies from North Carolina State University, with origins in Canadian research, place new emphasis on the "first milk" as a lifesaver for calves, driving home the need for tailored colostrum intervention strategies.

Lead researcher Lisa Gamsjaeger, now at NCSU, conducted the research during her time at the University of Calgary. The studies involved blood samples from 420 calves to measure their immunoglobulin G (IgG) levels, which are indicative of the calves' immunity strength. The findings indicated a stark disparity between calves with adequate antibody transfer and those without, affecting their subsequent health and survival rates.

The researchers observed that calves with failed antibody transfer from colostrum were significantly more vulnerable to diseases, requiring increased medical interventions and suffering higher mortality rates. These calves also had lower weaning weights, translating to notable economic losses for farmers.

The studies serve as a call to action for better colostrum management and vaccination schedules, especially for heifers, to improve the quantity and quality of antibodies passed on to the calves. This, in turn, could reduce the dependence on medical treatments and enhance the calves' growth performance.

This research not only sheds light on the biological and economic stakes of colostrum management but also on the potential for strategic improvement in farm practices. The Alberta Livestock and Meat Agency-backed findings, featured in Preventive Veterinary Medicine, offer a blueprint for better health outcomes in beef production, underscoring the importance of dedicated resources and policy support for the agricultural sector.

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