Livestock Articles on Calving & Calf Management

The percentage of stillbirths has been steadily increasing but you can take steps to improve that rate on your farm.

You'll soon be able to improve the chances of having a live calf on the ground-especially from a first-calf heifer-by looking closely at bull proofs for calf survival rates due to be published in early 2008. Recent numbers suggest that stillbirths have been rising for Canadian Holsteins, although the reasons still aren't clear.

Your treatment of calves from the first hour of their life to the first six to eight weeks could impact their future milk producing ability. The data we’re generating at Cornell and evaluating from other research suggest dairies need to alter how they view their animals’ early stage of development, especially as it relates to future productivity.

Two factors are key to determining a calf's health and survival during the first weeks of life - its immune system and its gut microflora. Research has shown that feeding Alltech's Bio-Mos to the calf's mother will support the development of the calf's immune system through improved colostrum quality.  Feeding Bio-Mos to the calf itself will help directly to protect the intestine from scour-causing pathogens, which is highly effective in limiting diarrhoea and any resulting calf mortalities.

The role of gastric enzymes is important for the digestion of the diet of the young ruminant animal due to its undeveloped rumen and reliance on the abomasum and small intestine for nutrient digestion and assimilation. The ability of neonates to digest and utilize high concentrations of milk fat, especially with low concentrations of intestinal lipases, is due to a combination of enzymes called pregastric esterase (Huber et al., 1961). This complex of lipolytic enzymes provides the majority of lipid breakdown within the abomasum, similar to salivary α−amylase in monogastrics. Pregastric esterase is composed of at least six different enzymes secreted from four areas of the glosso-epiglottic area of the mouth, including the vallate papillae region of the tongue, the glossoepiglottic area, the pharyngeal end of the esophagus and the submaxillary salivary gland (Moreau et al., 1988; Ramsey et al., 1956). It is of interest to note that adult ruminants in general are not capable of digesting diets high in fat, yet it is one of the main components in the diet of a neonatal ruminant.


The purpose of cow milk, as in other mammals, is to feed calves during the early stages of life. More than 80 % of milk is stored in udder alveoli and is transferred to the cistern by a neuro-hormonal reflex initiated by the contact of the calf’s mouth with the udder that culminates in the contraction of the myoepithelial cells surrounding the alveoli by the action of oxytocin liberated from the pituitary gland.