UBC Faculty Research and Publications

A cross-sectional study of suckling calves’ passive immunity and associations with management routines to ensure colostrum intake on organic dairy farms Johnsen, Julie F; Viljugrein, Hildegunn; Bøe, Knut E; Gulliksen, Stine M; Beaver, Annabelle; Grøndahl, Ann M; Sivertsen, Tore; Mejdell, Cecilie M


Background: For suckling dairy calves, different management routines to ensure sufficient colostrum intake are applied: visual assessment, hand feeding supplemental colostrum or assistance. However, knowledge on the efficacy of these methods to prevent failure of passive transfer [FPT: serum immunoglobulin (IgG) < 10 g/L] is lacking. Our objectives were to explore FPT prevalence in suckling dairy calves and associations with common management routines to ensure colostrum intake. From 20 organic herds, 156 calf blood samples (mean ± SD; 7.8 ± 1.24 per herd) and 141 colostrum samples from the dams were analysed. All calves suckled the dam. Factors known to affect serum and colostrum IgG were evaluated, including the method applied by the producer to ensure calf colostrum intake and whether it deviated from routine practice for any reason. Results: The prevalence of FPT was 31%. Mean serum and colostrum IgG (± SD) were 16.0 ± 10.0 g/L and 39.4 ± 26.4 g/L, respectively. Only colostrum IgG was found to have a statistically significant influence on the prevalence of FPT. Variation in serum IgG was also explained mainly by colostrum IgG. Of calves receiving colostrum according to farm routine, calves receiving supplemental colostrum with a bottle had lower serum IgG levels than did calves receiving no additional colostrum. However, no within-herd effect was found. With a high between-herd variation, colostrum IgG ranged from 2 to 135 g/L, and only 23% of the samples had a IgG content > 50 g/L. Colostrum IgG was significantly higher in samples collected during spring, compared to samples collected during winter, and lower in 2nd parity cows. Conclusions: The results indicate that for calves capable of finding the udder and suckling independently, there is no direct benefit of routinely hand feeding colostrum although herd level factors (e.g. feeding, management etc.) may play an important role. FPT prevalence in this study was high, and comparable to that of calves in conventional herds, separating cow and calf at birth. Still, the findings of a high FPT prevalence and inferior colostrum quality indicates a need for improved awareness among dairy producers practicing cow-calf suckling.

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