Controlling the Flow of Milk is a Crucial Key to Reducing Nutritional Diarrhea and Poor Performance in Pre-weaned Calves

Published on Thu, 01/19/2023 - 11:35am

Controlling the Flow of Milk is a Crucial Key to Reducing Nutritional Diarrhea and Poor Performance in Pre-weaned Calves.

 Article and photos courtesy of Milk Bar.

 The dairy sector is heavily impacted by poor calf performance with producers facing ongoing financial and labor costs primarily caused by using traditional fast feeding nipples or bucket feeding systems.

Artificial environments and traditional feeding methods play a big role in creating and adding to calf digestive stress. Nutritional diarrhea is common, in 2007 it was reported that 57% of calf mortality was attributed to scours. Poor weight performance is common with many producers being reluctant to feed higher volumes of milk in case the increased volume causes scours.

Post feeding hyperactivity is  common, and calves in groups will suckle each other after feeding causing navel infections and long-term damage to developing udder tissue. First lactation heifers will often have a blind quarter. These issues are so common that they are thought of as normal, and, despite excellent management practices, perfect milk temperature and high-quality milk powder, calves remain difficult to produce and the fundamental issue of poor performance is not resolved.

By changing how milk is delivered and controlling the flow, the symptoms of digestive stress can be greatly reduced or eliminated.

The new Milk Bar™ Revolution Snap on Nipple combats the common calf problems by working in harmony with the calf’s digestive system. The highly engineered nipple is designed to prevent the digestive problems caused by traditional, fast feeding systems. Five slits, positioned on a circle, control the milk flow to protect calves from the effects of fast feeding and the controlled milk flow reduces digestive stress and nutritional diarrhea.

The advanced technology ensures calves produce maximum saliva to boost immunity and aid digestion. The suckling instinct is satisfied, and the problem of cross suckling is almost eliminated.

The Milk Bar™ Revolution nipple helps solve digestive problems from the inside out but how can nipples have such a huge impact on the calf?

By looking at the physiology of a calf when she suckles from a cow, it is easy to understand how traditional, fast flow nipple and bucket feeding systems create problems for the calf and producer.

How the calf’s digestive system works.
When suckling from a cow, the calf applies both positive and negative pressure (squeezing and suckling). The squeezing stimulates the cow’s nipple, so oxytocin is released. Oxytocin causes cells in the udder to contract and eject milk from the alveolus into the cisterns above the teats. The suckling overcomes the sphincter barrier, allowing the calf to remove milk from the nipple.

She drinks slowly, up to 4 or 5 minutes per quart of milk and produces a lot of saliva.

The saliva that is produced is rich in lactoferrin-lactoperoxidase, an enzyme system with antioxidant and antimicrobial properties that boosts the immunity and improves the protection of the calf. The salvia also balances the pH in the abomasum and the slow delivery of milk combined with saliva gives rennin and other enzymes time to curd the milk. Lipase digests the fats, lactose is digested and absorbed into the bloodstream.

The natural suckling action of using positive and negative pressure activates the oesophageal groove. The oesophageal groove is a curved muscle that lies at the base of the esophagus. With the proper suckling technique, it closes and forms a small tube, so milk bypasses the rumen and enters the abomasum.  

Lactose absorption and nutritional scours
Nutritional diarrhea can be linked to two major causes, poor digestion and stress. Stress can result from a variety of causes. It could be due to irregular feeding, sudden changes in milk replacer concentration, or a poor-quality milk replacer. Environmental stress like sudden weather changes can also play a part.

Digestive stress is a key factor. If the pH in the abomasum is not balanced and the acid secretion is reduced then the ability of the milk to clot is compromised as is the digestion of milk protein.

Inadequate clotting allows excess sugar (lactose) to enter the intestines and produce a nutrient source for pathogens such as E.Coli who’s numbers multiply rapidly when in contact with raw milk or lactose.

‘Diarrhea can usually be traced back to a failure of adequate milk digestion in the abomasum.

Nutritional diarrhea is simply the end result of an oversupply of lactose in the intestines, caused by milk moving too rapidly out of the abomasum, so it cannot be broken down quickly enough.

Nutritional diarrhea often progresses to infectious scours. Pathogens use excess lactose as a nutrient source to increase in numbers.’ Source- Victoria Department of Primary Industries.

Long term impact: Aside from the cost and added workload of treating calves with nutritional diarrhea, studies have shown that calves who suffer from nutritional diarrhea pre weaning have a reduced average daily gain which can impact future conception. Further studies have shown that nutritional diarrhea pre weaning has a negative impact on first lactation milk production.

Addressing the cause: Alongside reducing environmental stress, improving digestibility and lactose absorption is key in reducing nutritional diarrhea.

We know from studies that a controlled flow of milk into the calf has a positive effect on digestion by promoting good clotting and improving lactose absorption. Saliva production helps to balance the pH to further ease stress on the digestive system.

Reducing the feeding speed and allowing the calf to suckle at a controlled, natural speed with the Milk Bar™ Revolution nipple will maximize saliva production and, ultimately reduce scours.

Cross suckling
Cross-suckling is when calves suckle on each other or their surroundings after feeding. It can be missed when bottles are filled and calves are left to feed, however it is worth taking the time to check for cross suckling as it can cause short term infections and long-term damage.

If you watch your calves after feeding you will see that the length of time they spend cross suckling is directly linked to the speed in which they drink.

For example: A calf fed 4qt at ‘nature’s speed’ should take around 12 - 15 minutes to drink. After drinking, she will be quiet and settled. Her suckling urge is satisfied, and she is content.

If she drinks 4qt in 8 minutes or less then she will spend the next 4-5 minutes cross suckling to satisfy the natural suckling urge.

Why it’s a problem: Short term problems like navel infections are a nuisance and take time and cost to treat. We are more interested in the long-term damage because cross suckling removes the keratin plug and leaves the developing teat canal open to infections. Cross-suckling is strongly linked to mastitis and blind quarters in first lactation heifers.

How to fix it: The common solution to address cross suckling is to separate calves, or to use a nose ring. Both ‘solutions’ are a bandage and do not address the underlying issue which is fast feeding. By feeding calves at the natural speed, using a controlled flow Milk Bar™ Revolution nipple or Milk Bar™ Teat, the problem of cross-suckling is resolved, and calves can be safely group fed with minimal risk.

Group feeding is a highly successful system when calves are fed with a controlled flow with time and labor significantly reduced. A study at the University of British Columbia found that pair-housed calves continued to gain weight after weaning while individually housed calves experienced a lag in weight gain after weaning. Group or pair-housed calves also experience group learning. In a study performed at Utah State University, calves housed in groups learned to eat calf starter at an earlier age than calves housed individually. Consumption of calf starter promotes rumen development to increase feed efficiency.

Improving weight performance
Good average daily gain (ADG) has positive outcomes such as better conception rates and increased first lactation milk production.

Improving lactose absorption is key for calves to fully benefit from good nutrition programmes. Lactose is released from the milk curd in the abomasum. It is broken down to glucose and galactose and these are absorbed into the bloodstream to form the major energy sources for young calves.

Controlled trials show a consistent and strong trend to higher ADG when calves are fed from a Milk Bar™ controlled flow teat. ‘Using slow flow rate teats to feed calves from day old to weaning appears to have an important impact on digestive processes in the immature gut. Such improvements in digestion and rumen development in young calves may assist in the digestion of milk and other feeds, leading to improved growth performance.’ Source: Journal of Applied Animal Nutrition.

By researching published data and understanding the physiology of calves, we can make positive changes to the way we think about raising calves. If we put as much emphasis on the Way calves drink as we do on What we feed then we can really start to see calves performing to their fullest potential. Long term production capability is improved, and costs are reduced.

The Milk Bar™ Revolution nipple is not only an essential tool in getting the most from your dairy calves for a healthy start and a productive future but it is highly durable, extremely long lasting and snaps on easily to any typical bottle.

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