Improving calf health

Michigan State University Extension worked to identify best management practices to reduce FPT in dairy calves on Michigan dairy farms.

October 1, 2017 - Author: Mindy Tape

A calf in a nursery waits to receive colostrum.

In order for newborn calves to survive, passive transfer of antibodies must occur, meaning that the calves must ingest the mother’s colostrum in the first few hours after they are born. Passive transfer of these antibodies protects calves from disease until their own immune systems become active.

Michigan State University Extension gathered data from 50 dairy farms across the state to determine the prevalence of failure of passive transfer (FPT) in bull calves to see whether this differs from heifer calves on the same farm. This information led to identifying the best management practices to reduce FPT in dairy calves on Michigan dairy farms.

Of the 1,050 calves sampled for serum total protein as an indicator of passive immunity transfer though colostrum, data revealed that bulls typically fared worse than heifers. In response to the research:

  • Producers fed more high-quality colostrum to calves within four hours of birth.
  • Farms considered administering a second colostrum feeding within six to 12 hours.
  • Changes resulted in higher passive transfer of immunity that will result in reduced calf mortality, higher growth rates and healthier animals.

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