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High frequency of delayed milk delivery to neonates in tropical beef herds

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Muller, J., Prada e Silva, L. and Fordyce, G. (2022) High frequency of delayed milk delivery to neonates in tropical beef herds. Reproduction in Domestic Animals, 57 (10). pp. 1176-1186. ISSN 0936-6768


Article Link: https://doi.org/10.1111/rda.14188

Publisher URL: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/rda.14188


Beef-calf mortality rates across tropical and subtropical Australia are high, with sub-optimal nutrition in pregnant cows being the primary risk. The nutritional deficiencies associated with calf mortality are the same as those associated with reduced milk yields. Although the highest mortality risk occurs during neonatal life, the role of inadequate milk delivery to beef neonates is not well established. This study investigated the frequency of low milk delivery in tropically adapted neonatal calves and the time for their dams to initiate full lactation in five management groups of Brahman and Droughtmaster calving cows in the dry tropics of northern Queensland, Australia. Change in calf weight in the days following birth was the primary measure of milk uptake. Plasma globulin concentration was used to indicate colostrum uptake. Across management groups, data were available on 250 calves for regression analysis of average daily gain vs. globulin and on 78 for plotting calf growth profiles. Calves had one of two growth profiles, either with immediate high growth from birth (day one) or with high growth delayed until day three. The frequency of delayed growth calves (with inadequate milk intake to gain at least 0.5 kg by day three after birth) was on average 30% across management groups, with management groups ranging 25%–50%. The frequency of calves growing ≤0.2 kg/day to day three was 15%–37%, depending on management group. The frequency of calves growing ≤0.2 kg/day to day five was 7%–20%, depending on management group. Calf globulin explained only 25% of the variation in calf average daily gain. Our study shows that a third of tropically adapted calves may experience a three-day delay to initiation of full lactation by their dams. Although study conditions were relatively benign, any additional risks with milk delivery, such as those that occur widely in tropical and subtropical northern Australia, would place such calves at risk of dehydration and mortality. Calf plasma globulin should not be used as a standalone measure of adequacy of neonatal milk delivery, especially when comparing across herds. This study demonstrates a fundamental problem of high frequency in northern Australia. The underlying risks for delayed milk delivery should be considered in the quest for practical solutions to reduce tropically adapted beef-calf mortalities.

Item Type:Article
Business groups:Animal Science
Additional Information:Open access
Subjects:Animal culture > Cattle
Animal culture > Rangelands. Range management. Grazing
Animal culture > Feeds and feeding. Animal nutrition
Agriculture > By region or country > Australia > Queensland
Live Archive:19 Sep 2022 05:44
Last Modified:09 Feb 2023 04:54

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