For those of you that have read my website you may have seen the phrase “Evidence Based Management” and wondered what does this mean? To me “Evidence Based Management” is about learning and incorporating the latest scientific evidence in a way that will benefit your specific farm. Two examples of this can be found for one of the first steps in calf management: Colostrum management!
Example 1: There is an abundance of evidence gathered through multiple studies that calves with failure of passive transfer are at a greater risk of disease (mortality) and death (morbidity). While your farm may have low number of calves impacted by calf-hood disease (called prevalence or incidence in academic literature), ensuring that you provide high quality, clean colostrum in a timely manner and achieving successful passive transfer (they get enough colostrum) will help reduce the risk of outbreaks and keep your calves healthy and growing.
While you could say, 'my calves are healthy therefor my colostrum management is good' or 'I have problems and that means colostrum is the problems', a better approach is to gather data. Collecting blood samples from your calves when they are between 1 and 5 days of age and evaluating the serum using a Brix Refractometer (or comparable tool by your veterinarian) can tell you for sure if at least 80% of your calves have successful passive transfer. If this is the case, you are passing the threshold that has been shown to give your animals the best chance for success. You can then just keep your colostrum feeding program the same and monitor your calves to make sure nothing changes, or if you do not meet this threshold begin to make changes and have a clear outcome for success.
Example 2: The other factor of colostrum management that is both easy and important to evaluate is the cleanliness of the colostrum fed to the calves. While you may achieve successful passive transfer, if you feed dirty colostrum with lots of bugs, your calves will still get sick. For this reason, taking a sample of colostrum from whatever device you feed calves from (i.e. tube or nipple of bottle) will tell you if the colostrum is staying clean after it is collected from the cow and is okay to feed to your calves. Immediately freezing the sample and having your veterinarian submit it for total plate count (here in Ontario it is usually the University of Guelph’s Animal Health Lab) will tell you how much bacteria is in the sample. If the sample is contaminated, you can then evaluate the steps of your cleaning program by taking samples from the tank you collect the colostrum from, after it has been thawed or heated to feed the calf, after pasteurization (if you pasteurize colostrum, and the feeding device (tube or nipple). This way you can find out where contamination is occurring on your farm and correct it. Re-sampling can then tell you if you succeeded and monitor to make sure there is not a breakdown in cleaning protocols or equipment.
There are lots of examples and methods to evaluate your on-farm management for economic, welfare-friendly practices that can be integrated into your farm. Stay tuned and follow my blog for more information!