Influence of nutrition on milk delivery to new-born calves

Project update: May 2020

Project: Improve cow fertility under harsh environments

Brahman cows and calves

Project objective: Influence of nutrition on milk delivery to new-born calves

Problem

Median calf wastage between confirmed pregnancy and weaning in northern Australia is 10-15%, depending on region. Overall loss is estimated in the vicinity of 1M calves in Australia annually. A similar situation exists through all tropical beef systems globally. Diseases and animal issues cause some of the loss, but the majority of wastage is associated with poor pregnant cow nutrition and high environmental stress. A very high proportion of calf mortality occurs within the first few days after birth. Preliminary research has identified about 30% of cows may be susceptible to a 3-day delay in starting full milk production after calving, putting calves at considerable risk.

Cost 

The annual cost of neonatal calf mortality of unknown cause in north Australia beef cattle has been calculated at $53.9M (MLA report: Lane et al. 2015).

General information

Proceedings of Calf Alive, an international symposium with beef producers included a presentation about this research: https://futurebeef.com.au/knowledge-centre/calf-alive-symposium-presentations/

Research objective

To understand how nutrition of the pregnant cow affects the ability to start full lactation on the day of calving and what practical methods prevent delayed start to milking in beef cows

Funding​

This project is funded by Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR), with support from The University of Queensland and the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries.

Research outcome

Recent research https://www.mdpi.com/2504-3900/36/1/7 by a joint QAAFI and DAF team with moderate-condition Brahman cows on a typical late dry season diet, found these cows were able to start preparing for a start to full lactation 2 days earlier when fed a protein meal and yeast extract supplement for just one-two weeks prior to calving. This was a dramatic effect that significantly increased the amount of colostrum calves were able to suckle from their dams. This indicates that a spike in feed quality to late-pregnant cows may be a vital trigger for a timely start to lactation for calving cows. This research will progress to test the effect of practical strategies that spike feed quality in the weeks prior to calving on calf wastage.

Industry benefit

The anticipated benefit from consistently lowering calf wastage by 5% to achievable levels is estimated at close to $20,000 for a moderate-sized herd of 3,000 cattle experiencing median levels of calf wastage. The research has direct application to extensive beef systems globally, especially in tropical regions for farmers with large herds right through to smallholder farmers with just one cow.

Photos linked to Improve cow fertility under harsh environments project by led by Dr Geoffry Fordyce and Dr Luis Prada e Silva , Latino Coimbra , Jarud Muller and Dr Fran Cowley.

First new born calf suckling
Ms Sarah Kennedy happy with the first calf born within the UQ cow fertility and calf nutrition project
Healthy looking calf

    

 

Latino Coimbra PhD research candidate with UNE and the Centre for Animal Science, Queensland Alliance for Agriculture and Food Innovation, UQ.

Related article: Good feed, good milk, good calving: research hones in on cow fertility by Shan Goodwin and published in Farmonline on 8 June 2020. 

Contact: Dr Geoffry Fordyce  Senior Research Fellow, Centre for Animal Science, Queensland Alliance for Agriculture and Food Innovation, The University of Queensland. Mobile: 0428 109 062 Email: g.fordyce@uq.edu.au

CONTACT

Dr Geoffry Fordyce 
Senior Research Fellow,
Centre for Animal Science,
Queensland Alliance for Agriculture and Food Innovation,
The University of Queensland.
M: 0428 109 062
E: g.fordyce@uq.edu.au
View researcher profile