The youngest animals on a dairy are often the most vulnerable. Improving mortality rates in this susceptible population can be the key to decreasing costs and improving productivity.
On U.S. dairies, the average mortality rates for pre-weaned calves is about 7.8 percent,1 which means nearly all operations can make improvements in this area, says Angel Aguilar, Ph.D., Dipl. ACAN, Technical Services Manager, Lallemand Animal Nutrition.
“Supporting calf health can pay dividends in reduced treatment costs, lowered death loss and improved gain,” he says. “To meet these goals, operations must ensure calves get a good start before they are challenged with stress. That takes attention to management practices and nutrition.”
To improve calf health, Aguilar suggests producers tackle the main causes of calf illness, which are scours, digestive and respiratory disorders associated with stress.1 He recommends reducing or eliminating the main causes of stress, such as:
- Abrupt feed changes
- Poor ventilation
- Exposure to sudden weather changes
- Excessive heat or cold
Aguilar recommends producers also carefully transport, vaccinate and handle pre-weaned calves to reduce the stress associated with these events.
In addition, a healthy and balanced digestive system can support a calf’s overall immune system. One way to do this is to include an active dry yeast (ADY) probiotic to the milk replacer, raw or waste milk fed to neonatal calves. ADY probiotics containing Saccharomyces cerevisiae boulardii CNCM I-1079 have been shown to help reduce the negative impact of stress in cattle.
“Saccharomyces cerevisiae boulardii CNCM I-1079 is a proven probiotic that positively activates the immune system of cattle during times of stress,” Aguilar says. “It actually works in the animal’s lower gut to influence the calf’s natural immunity through an internal active process.”
Aguilar cautions that not every probiotic can deliver these effects, particular in newborn calves. Producers should look for specific strains that are proven to deliver results.
“At birth, the digestive system of a calf is just beginning to develop,” Aguilar says. “It’s one of the many ways calves are vulnerable. Probiotics can help alleviate stress that so often damages the productivity potential of the calf — and the herd as a whole. Healthy calves provide a strong foundation for the health of a herd and profitability of an operation.”