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AS dairy farmers see their margins eroded further by the currently tumbling milk price, it becomes harder to plan for and invest in the future. Youngstock may be the first to suffer from such austerity because any investments made will not be seen for another three years, as cows are not thought to turn a profit until their second lactation. However, the future of all dairy herds rests on rearing healthy, productive and long-lived heifer replacements.
It is widely understood that early life experience has long lasting and even intergenerational effects on health; the Dutch Famine Cohort Study (www.dutchfamine.nl/index_files/study.htm) offered a grizzly but elegant human example. Back on the dairy farm, it has been demonstrated that management during the neonatal period and early life is crucial to the future success of dairy heifers. The risk of respiratory disease has been shown to be increased in calves with low levels of maternally derived immunoglobulins (Windeyer and others 2014), and a substantial 32 per cent of mortality in the first 16 weeks of life can be attributed to failure of passive transfer (Tyler and others 1999). Another less dramatic and more insidious effect of poor absorption of colostrum is lower growth rates to …