Providing cows with important minerals, vitamins and trace elements during the dry period is lifting colostrum quality and driving cow and calf health and performance at a County Fermanagh dairy farm.
Father and son John and William Rutledge run a herd of 160 Holstein Friesians on the outskirts of Derrylin. Cows produce an average annual milk yield of 8,500 litres on a twice a day milking system.
The herd calves in a block from September to early March with drying off eight weeks before the due calving date. At this point Lifeline Pre-Calver buckets are introduced. Dr Amanda Dunn, of manufacturer, Uniblock, advises that this is the ideal time to introduce these as colostrum formation begins approximately five weeks before calving.
Lifeline Pre-Calver is formulated with the calf and the cow in mind as it contains immune-boosting ingredients that stimulate the cow’s immune system during the final weeks of pregnancy, increasing antibody levels in the colostrum, says Dr Dunn.
“Looking after the calf does not start when the calf is born, but with the dry cow,’’ she points out.
Two Lifeline buckets are allocated for every 30 cows at the Rutledges’ farm and these are available at all times; two 18kg buckets usually last each group around a fortnight.
The Rutledges source the buckets from Ivor Wilson at Wilson Agri Merchants, Teemore, County Fermanagh. Alongside Lifeline Pre-Calver, cows are fed a total mixed ration of dry cow silage, straw and 1.5kg blend. William quality tests all colostrum produced in the first milking – Lifeline Pre-Calver is patented to boost colostrum quality by 25%.
“Since introducing Lifeline into the cows’ diet, the majority of the colostrum tested is excellent, and this gives great peace of mind that we are giving the calves the best start in life,’’ he says. Dr Dunn says the importance of good quality colostrum for newborn calves cannot be over-stated.
“Calves are born totally naïve of immunity and rely solely on colostrum as a source of passive immunity,’’ she says. As well as antibodies, colostrum contains an abundance of other bioactive factors, growth hormones, maternal cells and oligosaccharides and has higher levels of fat, protein, vitamins and minerals than standard milk.
All these components play a significant role in developing the calf’s immune system, especially its underdeveloped gut.
Without good quality colostrum calves are much more likely to succumb to ill thrift, enteric diseases and mortality in their first few weeks of life. “Making the most of this ‘free’ source of nutrition is therefore highly recommended,’’ says Dr Dunn.