How can nutrition impact disease in your system?

Nutrition has a large effect on the occurrence and severity of many diseases of dairy cattle.1 Common diseases and problems that can occur from poor or inadequate nutrition include: bloat, white muscle disease, urolithiasis, skin problems, rumen acidosis, and retained placentas. Consumption of legume pastures or finely ground, high-starch diets (such as are frequently fed to feedlot cattle) are common for causing bloat in cattle, and white muscle disease can occur from a deficiency in selenium or vitamin E. White muscle disease most commonly affects rapidly growing calves that are not getting enough vitamin E or selenium in their diet.2 Failure to properly administer colostrum to newborn calves can also cause disease since their passive immunity from their mothers would be compromised. To assure adequate passive transfer of antibodies, all calves should receive at least 2 L of high-quality colostrum within 6 hr of birth. Colostrum feeding should continue until calves are 3 days old, but the initial feeding of colostrum is critical for passive transfer of immunity.3

After the period of colostrum feeding, the traditional nutritional strategy for raising dairy replacement calves has been to minimize liquid feed consumption, maximize solid feed consumption, stimulate early rumen development, and wean calves at a relatively young age (usually 4–8 wk).3 Under this system, targeted rates of gain for calves of the large dairy breeds are ~400–600 g/day for the first 3–4 wk of life. This requires a dry-matter intake of 600–750 g/day; ~450 g of this is supplied from liquid feed, which equates to ~4 L of milk or reconstituted milk replacer/day for calves weighing 40–50 kg at birth. This amount should be divided between at least two feedings/day. The remaining dry matter should come from a high-quality calf starter, which is a concentrate mixture specially prepared for young calves. As calves grow, the amount of liquid feed/day remains constant, and increases in growth rate are accounted for by increases in calf starter consumption. Liquid feeds for young calves include milk, waste milk, excess colostrum, and milk replacers. Milk and excess colostrum can be high-quality feeds for suckling calves, but adequate biosecurity precautions, such as pasteurization and screening of cows for chronic infectious diseases such as bovine leukosis and Johne’s disease, need to be in place.3 Diarrhea is one of the most common diseases to affect young calves and can frequently result in life-threatening dehydration. If calves are not being fed proper nutrition, then they may fall victim to diarrhea and dehydration from a coccidian infection which is commonly found in dairy calf operations.

Overall making sure that calves receive high quality colostrum after birth, supplementing calf milk replacer, and feeding high quality grain and forages to stimulate crucial rumen development will help to reduce opportunities for disease to spread throughout calves.