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Mineral crumb trial highlights benefit to colostrum quality

The importance of balancing the diet to optimise colostrum quality is a primary focus for farmers as spring calving approaches.

Matching diets with the changing nutritional demands is key at this stage to ensure cows and heifers are in the best condition for calving.

“Feeding a nutritionally dense ration that provides enough energy and protein to ensure all animals are in a fit, working body condition is crucial,” says Ross Sibbald, Rumenco area business manager.  

For David Craig, a beef and sheep farmer from Cumnock in Ayrshire, assessing the nutritional content of the diet is a main focus of the system he operates to optimise calving success. “Building a picture of the whole farm by working with vets and consultants to identify what is working well is a key philosophy of mine,” says Mr Craig.

“For our suckler herd, this specifically relates to managing diets in the run up to calving, to ensure the cows are in optimum condition.”

Mr Craig, runs a herd of 170 Aberdeen Angus cross suckler cows, of which 130 are spring calvers, due to calf-down from the middle of March. “The cows are fed a silage based ration which we get analysed each year by Rumenco.

“Depending on the mineral status of the forage, we may include a top-up feed to ensure intakes are nutritionally balanced. We also work closely with our vet to carry out blood profiling at three different stages during pregnancy which highlights when and how I may need to alter the ration to meet their requirements, particularly in relation to trace element levels.

“In the past I’ve top dressed silage with cake to boost nutritional intakes. But, last season I trialled the Lifeline Pre-Calver mineral crumb from Rumenco, to see how incorporating the supplement into diets would influence colostrum quality and aid calving,” says Mr Craig.

Trial

Undertaking the trial with the support of Rumenco, Mr Craig split 80 spring calving suckler cows into two pens, all of which were a similar body condition score (BSC) but varied in age from three to twelve years old. 

Mr Craig explains that four weeks prior to calving a mineral crumb was introduced to the ration; half of the cows in the trial were fed the Lifeline Pre-Calver mineral crumb, and the other half were fed a control diet containing a bespoke mineral formulated in respect of the silage mineral analysis. 

From the first week of calving right through to the end Mr Craig took at least 20 colostrum samples from each group of cows in the trial, as soon as they had calved, and froze each of the samples.

All samples were then sent off for analysis to measure the quality of the colostrum in relation to the various immunoglobulin (Ig) concentrations. 

Results

Independent analysis of the samples concluded that colostrum from the cows fed the Lifeline Pre-Calver mineral crumb had an 18%, 55% and 30% higher concentration of IgA, IgM, and IgG respectively, compared to those fed the control diet. 

Mr Sibbald explains, “Immunoglobulins have a specific role in counteracting foreign bodies and fighting infection. 

“There are several classes of immunoglobulins which can be found in colostrum, but IgG makes up 75 to 80% of the total immunoglobulins and is particularly important for passive immunity passed onto the offspring via the placenta and in the colostrum.

“For the results of the trial to identify the elevated levels of three key immunoglobulins in the colostrum, it clearly shows the benefit of incorporating a mineral crumb, such as Lifeline Pre-Calver, into the ration to support the cows ability to produce a quality source of colostrum,” adds Mr Sibbald. 

In addition to the scientific results of the trial, Mr Craig highlights the visual observations during calving from the trial groups. “The cows were calving easier in general. But I did notice that the group fed with the Lifeline Pre-Calver mineral crumb had more birthing fluid which definitely helped ease the process.  It was one of the easiest calving’s I’ve ever had.

“The take-home message highlighted by the trial has been the importance of having the cows in the right condition at the right time, and working with experts to build the full picture of what you’re dealing with,” he adds. 

“Adjusting the ration accordingly, and knowing what you are feeding the stock has played dividends to cow condition and subsequently the quality of the colostrum available to the calves in the initial hours of life,” says Mr Craig.