Fighting disease with proper nutrition

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Several management factors affect whether a calf is susceptible to disease including colostrum management, housing, hygiene and stress.

Sound nutritional practices are critical to prevent and fight disease. Calves must receive the nutrients they need to ward off illness.

One primary rule: never withhold milk from scouring calves, as they require energy and protein to:

  • Meet maintenance requirements
  • Fight disease
  • Continue growth

It is well-documented that stress, including nutrient deficiency, impairs immune responses (Griebel et al. 1987). Conventional feeding of only 10 percent of body weight (BW) may not meet the calf’s requirements, particularly when the requirements change, such as with environmental stress or disease.

Intensified feeding programs have been shown to increase some immune responses, and decrease others (Nonnecke et al. 2003; Foote et al. 2005), but with unknown effects on actual calf health. However, research has shown that increased milk can help calves fight the effects of the parasite Cryptosporidium parvum (Ollivett et al. 2009).

It is important to ensure you are feeding beyond maintenance requirements not only to allow for growth, but to ensure calves are able to fight disease. Sick calves should get the milk they need.

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