At an early morning Cattlemen’s College session on Feb. 1 during the 2017 Cattle Industry Convention in Nashville, Tenn., Victor Cortese took attendance by asking cow-calf producers to raise their hands. He then joked that the stocker and feedlot operators in the room better take a good look at those cow-calf folks because he said, “Your problems start there.”

Cortese, a veterinarian and director of cattle and equine immunology for Zoetis, explained that he made that point to underscore that more and more research indicates calf health in the first sixty days is paramount to the long-term performance of the animals. 

He added, “A calf’s highest genomic potential is the day they are born and then we start to screw it up.”

That said, Cortese emphasized that research in the area of “perinatal programming” is looking at what is important to the calf after it’s born to help it reach its full genetic potential. (The term “prenatal” refers to the time before the calf is born.) Thus, cow-calf producers have a crucial role to help put calves on their best path for performance.

As one example, research over the past decade suggests colostrum is not only important to the immediate health and immunity of the calf – but colostrum’s biggest impact may actually be in influencing a calf’s long-term performance. Cortese reports that researchers are finding that the presence of hormones, insulin, leptin and relaxin – all found in colostrum – are responsible for influencing long-term feed efficiency, gain, appetite and management of stress. Of this emerging research, he says, “Colostrum transfer is one of the best predictors of how calves will do.”

Cortese shared that research findings also suggest that the more growth a calf has in the first sixty days of life – the more efficient that calf will be throughout its life. Cortese suggests a good rule of thumb is to double a calf’s birthweight by about 60 days.

A second area of emerging research that Cortese shared with attendees was the concept of “prime boost,” which he describes as utilizing – and properly administering vaccinations – to cattle at different life stages. He suggested thinking about the stages as “a baby, maintaining them through being a teenager and then through to adulthood.”

Essentially, prime boost research indicates that more vaccine efficacy – and disease control – can be achieved by combining use of intranasal products with injectables. Specifically, when an intranasal is administered prior to use of injectables, the successive immunity and performance of calves appears to be better. Of the emerging research, Cortese anticipates improved management protocols to come, and says, “It’s changing what we do when vaccinating young calves.”