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Colostrum boosts the health of cattle throughout their lifetime

An ounce of prevention is still worth a pound of cure, provincial extension vet Dr. Wayne Tomlinson told producers during a Beef and Forage Week seminar in Teulon.

Vaccinations and proper colostrum uptake don’t just give calves a good start, but also keep them healthy into adulthood and the feedlot as well, he said.

“Without the colostrum, everything else falls apart,” said Tomlinson.

Newborns don’t have a fully developed immune system, and so must absorb antibodies from their mother’s colostrum. The positive effects are almost immediate.

Colostrum also passes white blood cells, called T-cells, that enter into the calf’s bone marrow and program new cells to fight disease.

During an experiment, 26 per cent of cows that did not receive colostrum became ill, compared to just five per cent that received full colostrum.

Maternal antibody interference can be an issue when vaccinating calves younger than six weeks, but Tomlinson said late-born calves should still be vaccinated if they are heading out to pasture prior to turning six weeks old.

“It’s not 100 per cent interference, the vaccines will do some benefit,” he said.

Following the BSE crisis in 2003, Tomlinson said some producers cut corners and vaccination numbers dropped.

“The price of cattle had tanked and a lot of people tried to save money wherever they could,” he said. “Some of them tried to save it by cutting preventive maintenance like vaccinations.”

Since that time most ranchers have gotten back on board with a regular vaccination schedule, although the vet said there are still a few stragglers.

Consult your vet

Although some vaccinations, such as the one for blackleg, are broadly recommended, others are specifically suited to individual herds and regions.

“I would recommend that everyone contact their local veterinarian and figure out what is best for their herd,” Tomlinson said. “For me to go around the province and say to everyone you should do one particular thing, there are just too many different types of management systems for me to make one blanket statement. So you really need to contact your veterinarian and find out what vaccine protocol is best for your herd.”

For some respiratory viruses, a new version of an old method of vaccination has come back into the picture. An intranasal spray vaccine is now available for three respiratory infections.

Tomlinson said this method was regularly used in the 1970s, before fading away in favour of a quick needle under the skin or in the animal’s neck.

Now that the intranasal vaccine is targeted at younger animals, as well as dairy cows, interest has been revived.

“Now when we start doing it on baby calves, it’s not quite as onerous to mess with their heads,” he noted. “It’s not new technology, it’s old technology. We’re just reinventing it.”

The intranasal vaccines can be used on calves as young as a few days old and because it uses a different mode of action, it won’t cause maternal antibody interference, Tomlinson said.

About the author


Shannon VanRaes is a journalist and photojournalist at the Manitoba Co-operator. She also writes a weekly urban affairs column for Metro Winnipeg, and has previously reported for the Winnipeg Sun, Outwords Magazine and the Portage Daily Graphic.



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