Arm & Hammer Animal and Food Production

Correct Calf Care Basics to Enhance Nutrition Solutions

A sound nutrition program grounded in research-proven ingredients forms the foundation for success and helps dairies achieve productivity goals.

But there are limits to what nutrition can do when underlying health or management challenges undermine animal performance. Instead of successful outcomes, these circumstances set the stage for subpar results and disappointing execution.

A 1,000-cow Midwest dairy discovered this truth when it decided to improve its calf nutrition program to increase calf health and productivity gains.

The farm raised all of its own replacement heifers and struggled periodically with outbreaks of scours caused by Cryptosporidium. While calf mortality was low, disease incidence occurred more often than desired.

Scours afflicted approximately half of the farm’s calves at six to 10 days old—and required several days of electrolyte treatments before the cases ran their course. At a treatment cost of approximately $30 per calf ($2.50 per electrolyte dose 3X for four days), veterinary expenses for this problem were not insignificant.

The farm began to explore the benefits of Refined Functional Carbohydrates™ (RFC™) as a means to increase heifer-rearing productivity and reduce disease incidence. RFCs, a new technology that can help provide a healthy foundation for calf development, have been shown to reduce incidence,1 severity2 and duration of cryptosporidiosis1.

RFCs are the components harvested from yeast cells (S. cerevisiae) using specific enzymes during the manufacturing process. This enzymatic hydrolysis yields MOS (mannan oligosaccharides), (1,3-1,6) beta glucans and D-Mannose.

In essence, RFCs bind pathogens, rendering them harmless to the animal. And RFCs act as a prebiotic by feeding the beneficial bacteria of the intestine while blocking sites for attachment by pathogens.

While RFCs can be a successful partner in improving calf health and performance, no single tool can overcome overwhelming odds. At this dairy, the intervention was destined to fail unless managers took action to address the underlying issues.

The Pre-introduction Assessment

To ensure success, the dairy took two important steps prior to including RFCs in calf diets.

  1. It conducted an audit of current feeding practices and hygiene.
  2. The dairy then set goals for success, including milk sample bacteria thresholds, disease incidence and treatment levels.

Once it took these actions, the dairy was able to discover the underlying factors that sabotaged successful outcomes. In addition, farm personnel then knew what success really looked like so they could continue to make well-informed management decisions.

The Discovery Process

During its initial investigation the dairy and its management team confirmed that, indeed, Cryptosporidium was a consistent pathogen in the scouring calves less than 10 days of age.

Armed with that information, the next step was to evaluate the calf feeding program’s practices and procedures.

The team sampled colostrum after collection and found that bacterial counts were well below predetermined threshold levels. But, it was quickly determined that colostrum management practices after collection were less than ideal—colostrum was not being cooled quickly enough, allowing bacteria to swiftly multiply prior to feeding.

Next, milk samples were taken pre- and post-pasteurization and bacterial levels fell within acceptable ranges. However, bacterial counts greatly exceeded established thresholds for samples of milk taken from milk delivery tanks at the end of the feeding shifts.

It was also learned that one of the feeding shifts was not consistently following cleaning protocols, meaning milk sometimes collected in the delivery tank allowing for rapid bacterial development.

Furthermore, the feeding shift in question was taking longer than expected to deliver milk, so it was in the delivery tank several hours longer than for other shifts. This, too, allowed for bacteria populations to rapidly rise above acceptable levels during the feeding shift.

The Remedy

Upon learning how and where the challenges occurred, the dairy quickly retrained maternity pen personnel on proper colostrum management techniques. Calf feeders also received a refresher on milk delivery and equipment sanitation protocols to improve the quality of milk being fed to calves.

As a final measure, the milk delivery tank plumbing was updated and rubber hoses replaced to reduce bacterial contamination of milk fed to calves.

Meanwhile, weekly testing at various points in the milk collection, pasteurization and delivery system was implemented to better monitor bacterial levels.

Once these changes were made, bacterial counts in all samples promptly decreased.

The Outcome

In this case, once the underlying factors causing the severe Cryptosporidium challenge were addressed and milk collection and delivery optimized, Cryptosporidium incidence and treatments were significantly reduced and the dairy was able to take full advantage of the nutritional intervention.

No longer were the calves exposed to high levels of bacteria and the RFCs were better able to do their job. Because calves were healthier, they could spend their energy on growth.

Following all actions taken—improved protocol compliance combined with the addition of RFCs to calf diets—the dairy noted a 75% reduction in total scours incidence. In cases that did occur, electrolyte treatments were only need for a day or two, not four or five days as before. Case treatment cost dropped from $30 to $7.50. ($2.50 electrolyte cost 3X for one day.)

Dairies will never be able to eliminate all bacterial pathogens, but when basic health and hygiene protocols are in place, calves are much better able to withstand insults to their system.

Since RFCs can help minimize the impact of some of these challenges, more energy is available for gaining weight and frame size, not being used by the immune system or fighting a pathogenic infection that causes diarrhea.

As a result, the dairy also noted increased weight gain of 5 pounds per calf at weaning, leading to the desired outcome of increased efficiency.

1 Santos JEP. Prophylactic Feeding of Yeast Culture Enriched with Oligosaccharides from Cell Wall Extract in Calves Experimentally Challenged with Cryptosporidium parvum. University of Florida, 2008; report on file.

2 Jalukar S, Nocek JE. Evaluation of enzymatically hydrolyzed yeast in vitro and in vivo for control of Cryptosporidium parvum infections in dairy calves. J Anim Sci 2009; Vol.87, E-Suppl. 2/J Dairy Sci Vol. 92, E-Suppl. 1. Research Bulletin D-61.

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