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Sufficient iron is essential for your calves

An iron constitution with SprayfoCalves need iron for various physical processes, especially in the production of hemoglobin (in the blood) and myoglobin (in the muscles). These substances bind oxygen and transport it through the body. Furthermore, iron is important for a calf's resistance, optimum growth and conversion of nutrition and for the general fitness of the animals.

Young calves have by nature very low levels of iron and to keep the calves healthy, they must be supplemented with iron. For a good Life Start, the iron supply must be sufficient.

Iron levels in calves vary dramatically

The amount of iron in the body of the calf is partly determined by the season, the breed, the nationality, the growth rate and the levels of the different (roughage) feeds and water. But also through supply from rusty stall equipment or undesirable ‘’contamination’’ from (roughage) feed. Based on these parameters, calves require extra iron through supplementation and/or injection.

Deficit often already present at birth

Many calves already have an iron shortage at birth and are as a result anaemic. A deficient iron supply disrupts blood production, possibly causing anaemia in very young calves. Given that iron plays a role in the production of antibodies, this also affects these calves' resistance.

Study into extra iron supply

Hofgut Neumühle in Germany investigated whether an extra iron supply could improve iron levels in the first days of life. It studied blood values in 50 young calves and supplied them an iron preparation.

 On the 4th and 14th day of life, blood was taken to examine Haemoglobin levels (iron-bearing proteins in red blood cells), Haematocrit values (cellular blood components) and iron levels. All calves were given colostrum milk in the first week. In the second week, one half received full-fat cows' milk and the other milk replacer.

Iron shortage greatest in cows' milk

The results: on day 4, 33% of calves had a major iron deficiency and 25% had a slight iron shortage. On the 14th day of life, the calves who had been given milk replacer received more iron than the calves given cows' milk. Of the milk replacer group, 42% had good iron levels. In the cows' milk, just 25% of the calves had sufficient iron in the blood, so 75% had a shortage!

Follow-up trial with administration of iron preparation

Based on inadequate iron levels, even on day 14, a follow-up trial was set up. This involved supplying the calves an iron preparation for the first two days after birth. The calves were divided into two groups for this purpose. One group was given an iron injection (1000mg Iron Dextran). The other calves received the same amount of iron via a paste mixed through the colostrum milk. On the 4th and 14th day of life, haemoglobin and iron levels were once again tested. Additionally, blood samples were taken from 13 calves that had not been given iron.

Conclusions

Iron is best administered using a feed preparation. Administration of iron, both via injections and via milk, generates a significant improvement in haemoglobin levels in the blood. The biggest increase was established in calves that received iron in colostrum milk (see chart).

Effect of iron via injection and via colostrum

The results of the iron supply on iron levels in the blood were impressive: •77% of the calves already had correct iron levels after just four days.

  • This was 63% with iron injections, while more than 75% of untreated calves still had an iron shortage! Despite iron supplementation, 15% (iron via colostrum) and 13% (iron via injection) still had a major iron deficiency after four days. After 14 days, the picture was very different. For calves receiving iron from colostrum, 92% had optimum iron levels. In calves receiving iron injection, this was 82%.
  • Nothing changed in the group of untreated calves, with 77% still suffering iron shortages!

 

Control Iron via colostrum iron injection 

Rearing advice for an iron constitution

At 0.5 mg/l, iron levels in cows' milk are too low. Calves need about 100 mg per day, so cows' milk is insufficient and must be supplemented with an iron preparation. Administering iron to calves after birth is possible via a nutritional preparation (e.g. Sprayfo VIMIX). This works just as well as an iron injection. Note iron levels in powdered milk replacer per kg 80–100 mg. Concentrate is also rich in iron – an uptake of 0.5 kg concentrate per day provides sufficient iron. However, this only applies after four weeks of age. Even when using powdered milk replacer, we recommend adding an iron preparation to the colostrum. Sprayfo VIMIX is perfect for this, at 5 grams a day for 3–4 days. 

Health risks on your farm?

Want to take the appropriate measures to prevent calf disease on your farm? Ask the Sprayfo rearing specialist in your region. 

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Prevention of disease in calves

Is there sufficient ventilation in your rearing pens? Can you improve the hygiene?
How good is your calves' immunity? Discuss your approach to disease prevention
with a Sprayfo rearing specialist in your region. 

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