During Bonanza Calf Nutrition’s most recent @CalfChat event, the development of the gut in the days after birth was the topic of discussion.

When we consider the days after birth and what happens in the calf’s gut, the single thing we consider is the absorption of antibodies from colostrum and the closure of the gut to these.

Participants in the @CalfChat event were asked if they knew at what point the gut closed - that poll showed that almost 75% believed it closed after 24 hours, when it in fact remains highly permeable for up to two weeks.

Gut closure

The term ‘gut closure’ in relation to colostrum feeding gives the illusion that the gut is sealed at 24 hours, therefore there can be complacency about the calf’s vulnerability to enteric diseases.

The speed at which the gut closes depends on the feed the calf is consuming in the days after colostrum feeding.

This is one of the main purposes of transition milk - to accelerate gut development.

Sixty percent of participants believed that good digestible protein is key to helping a newborn calf’s gut to mature.

The key to gut development is not in the major nutritional components ... but in bioactive components

While it is important that baby calves receive digestible protein, the key to gut development is not in the major nutritional components such a protein and fat, but in bioactive components including oligosaccharides.

These take local action on the gut and encourage cells to multiply and close the porous gut, helping the calf to become more resistant to infections such as rotavirus and cryptosporidiosis.

Furthermore, transition milk contains antibodies which take local action on the gut, while good bacteria help the gut get started on the right footing, instead of bad bacteria and viruses taking up the space.

Transition milk

Only half of the @CalfChat said they fed transition milk as standard practice and 40% said they moved immediately on to a regular milk replacer after feeding colostrum, which is a cause for concern, according to Dr Christine Cummins of Bonanza Calf Nutrition.

“This is something that we can get away with for a few years without a big disease outbreak, but, like with colostrum, there can be lasting effects and challenges for the calf even after the first couple of weeks have passed,’’ she warned.

The practice of moving directly on to a milk replacer after colostrum feeding is becoming more common due to lack of space for baby calf pens, use of automatic feeders, insufficient staff to devote time to feeding baby calves and decreased use of dry cow antibiotics.

“As our herd sizes increase, time for our calves is harder to find and we need to find strategies to help decrease our labour requirement without compromising our calf health,’’ said Dr Cummins.

If moving on to a milk replacer, consider using a transition milk replacer ahead of a standard replacer, she advised.

The main difference between the two are the ingredients in transition milk replacer - these aid gut development.

Not only must transition milk replacer have a different fat and protein profile, but it needs to have ingredients that encourage gut development and protection.

Tried and tested

One which has been tried and tested by countless calf rearers is Transformula, the first transition milk on the market.

Transformula provides the calf with key ingredients for energy, growth and gut health.

It contains highly digestible protein and a high level of a digestible fat blend - key nutritional components of a transition milk.

Yet the crucial elements are the ingredients which promote gut development and health: these help the calf fend off diseases such as those that cause scour.

“Transformula is a complete package to get the calf off to the start it needs to excel. This powder works perfectly through machines, as well as being easy to mix by hand,’’ says Dr Cummins.

Transformula is commonly used in conjunction with a secondary milk replacer as a two-step process and is also used to feed young calves after transport to eliminate the effects of a stressful event.

Dr Cummins said a key outcome of the @CalfChat event was that the vulnerability of the gut and the importance of transition milk are seriously underestimated.

This had lasting, detrimental effects on the calf, she said.

“Transition milk or a replacement is a crucial element in the nutritional programme of a healthy calf," she said.

The next @CalfChat event will take place on 12 November at 8pm and will be hosted by JFC. This event will primarily focus on milk feeding.

Dr Cummins said that when it comes to milk feeding, it can be regarded as an onerous task, but this doesn’t need to be the case.

“There are many ways to feed milk to calves, but there is no single way that is suitable to all farms," she said.

“Knowing your options, and the pros and cons of these options, are key to successful milk feeding with minimal workload for your farm."