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Colostrum in neonatal calves: the key to survival, health and performance
  1. Damien Barrett, MVB, MVM, MSc, CertCHP, DipECBHM
  1. Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Sligo Regional Veterinary Laboratory, Doonally, Sligo F91 XRW7, Republic of Ireland, e-mail:

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TÚS maith, leath na h-oibre. This is an old Irish proverb which translates as ‘a good start is half the work’. This proverb is especially pertinent to the management of calves in early life as the seedstock of sustainable dairy and beef herds. Unlike several other species, the transfer of passive immunity in utero in calves does not exist and they depend entirely on the consumption of colostrum in the first days of life to provide the passive transfer of maternal immunity until their own immune systems can provide the necessary defences to deal with any infectious challenges they are exposed to. Where there is a failure of passive transfer (FPT) of immunity to neonatal calves there is an increased risk of mortality and disease. The prevalence of FPT reported in the literature ranges from 20 to 40 per cent and mortality related to FPT has been reported to vary from 8 to 25 per cent (Raboisson and others 2016). In a meta-analysis of the consequences of FPT, the mean risk of mortality was increased by a factor of 2.12 over controls, respiratory disease by 1.75, diarrhoea by 1.51 and overall morbidity by 1.91 (Raboisson and others 2016). This clearly has implications for increased antimicrobial use and a selection pressure for antimicrobial resistance in herds where there is a high prevalence of FPT. The mean cost of one case of FPT has been estimated …

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