Meticulous planning increases your chances of being successful and tends to yield outstanding results. As the potential return on investment on the farm can range from 10 to 30%, it is worth your while to identify the best investment and then plan accordingly.

Healthy animals grow faster and convert grazing into a final product much more efficiently. Several specific problems can affect the carcass, wool, milk and quality of the offal. The question is therefore where to direct your focus, and on what?

Production cycle of animals

There are several ‘critical points’ in an animal’s production cycle. Two important aspects in young animals are their immune status and the rumen of the calf or lamb.

 

Figure 1: The two vital aspects in young animals.

Ingestion of colostrum is essential for a newborn calf or lamb, as the animal’s immune system is not fully developed at birth. Colostrum contains antibodies or immunoglobulins (essential protein) needed to protect the calf against diseases. This is known as passive immunity.

In general, a calf should receive 5 to 6% of its body weight in colostrum within the first six hours of its life and another 5 to 6% of its body weight at twelve hours.

Immunity against diseases

Antibodies in the colostrum can only protect the newborn animal against pathogens for a few days. For that reason, it should develop a strong immunity against diseases as soon as possible after birth through intensive nutrition (after receiving the colostrum) containing extra iron, selenium, vitamins and minerals.

The general rule of thumb is the better the intake of colostrum and the milk fed from day two, the smaller the chance of diseases in young animals. This immunity must support the animal for approximately 21 days, until its own inherent immunity takes over.

Trace minerals are important for fertility, immunity and general production outputs. Of even greater importance is additional supplementation and its effect on efficient production and increased profit.

The development of the calf or lamb’s rumen is the second and most important goal. The long-term benefits of healthy rumen development from an early age include the possibility of earlier weaning, higher resistance against weaning shock, better weight gain and lower feed costs.

Development of the rumen

A newborn ruminant is essentially a monogastric animal. The rumen initially forms 30% of the volume of the belly and must increase to more than 60% of the total volume within eight weeks. Feed conversion is much more efficient at an early age. As such, the opportunity to develop the rumen effectively during a period of maximum feed conversion should be optimised.

Figure 2: Animals’ ability to use feed efficiently declines with age. (Bach and Ahedo – Veterinary Clinics Food Animal Practice 24 (2008) 117-138)

Development of the rumen consists of:

  • Change and development of the volume and the physical size of the rumen.
  • Development and lengthening of the rumen papillae and thickening of the rumen wall.

Development of the rumen is determined by the way the calf is fed, with dry feeds primarily utilised for development of the rumen. Digestion of grains lead to the formation of butyric and propionic acid. Butyric acid is mainly responsible for development of the rumen papillae and the blood vessels covering it.

Main source of energy

Natural supplements can be used to stimulate rumen development, such as certain mixtures of probiotics. Roughage or coarse feed provide the ‘scratch’ effect, aiding with the development of the rumen wall and muscles.

Volatile fatty acids are a ruminant’s main energy source. Glycogen (animal sugar) is used as primary energy source when muscles transform into meat, or for energy for wool and milk production. Glycogen is kept in reserve for production activities or times of stress.

A planned focus on immunity and rumen development in young animals will ultimately help bring about maximum profits.

For references or more information, phone an Afrivet agent or download the Afrivet app. Alternatively, phone 012 817 9060 or 0860 VEEARTS, of visit the website www.afrivet.co.za.