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boosting calf immunity

Boost calf immunity to help hit lower antibiotic use targets

How can a boost to calf immunity lower antibiotic usage?
Rachel Smithyman, Technical Services Manager

Finding ways to boost the calf’s natural immunity is one part of the puzzle that will help to lower pneumonia risk and hit new industry targets for lower antibiotic use.

In November last year, The Responsible Use of Medicines in Agriculture Alliance (RUMA) published their 2020 report. In it, they specifically highlighted the need to reduce mortality rates, number of treatments and antibiotic use on calf rearing units between 2021 and 2024 (see box).

With recent data from AFBI Hillsborough suggesting calf mortality rates of up to 6% across the industry - a figure that’s not changed for some time - there’s a real need to improve calf survival rates.

At this time of year, pneumonia is a particular challenge thanks to frequent rainfall, low temperatures, and indoor housing. This is because calves are less able to deal with temperature fluctuations compared to older animals and have to work harder to keep warm. This means calves are often expending energy to keep warm rather than growing and building a strong immune system. This, combined with environmental factors such as poor housing conditions, lack of ventilation and inadequate air quality, all affects immune status.

Ambition Calf


Mole Valley Farmers’ Ambition Calf and OmniGen-AF® range is perfectly placed to help tackle both incidences of pneumonia and the need for antibiotic treatment.

Ambition Calf is a high-quality calf feed that incorporates OmniGen-AF® to help support immune function in youngstock. The patented feed supplement OmniGen-AF® is proven to promote natural immune function, leading to fewer health events, less respiratory disorders and reduced medicine use.

Ambition calf nuts and pellets are designed to complement Mole Valley Farmers’ Nukamel Omnismart milk replacer, which also includes OmniGen-AF®. This provides calves with the required dose of the feed supplement prior to weaning.

Trial work carried out on 122 Holstein heifer calves found 56% less respiratory cases in calves fed OmniGen-AF® through the calf milk replacer and calf starter.
Compared to the control group, there were 20% fewer ill calves and no elevated temperatures in the group fed OmniGen-AF®. A similar trial carried out in Pennsylvania found that Holstein bull calves that were fed OmniGen-AF® for the first 20 weeks of life required less veterinary medicine intervention, leading to a 43% reduction in medicine costs (Bewley, 2010).

Our customers feeding Ambition calf feed and Omnismart milk powder have seen similar results. Neville Kitching is one. Including OmniGen-AF® in calf milk replacer and rearer nuts has reduced calf mortality by 13% and lowered antibiotic use on his farm. Not as many calves are becoming ill, whilst those that do get sick require less aggressive antibiotic treatment. They also recover quicker.

They just have better immunity to fight against that bacteria,” says Neville. “Calves are stronger and we’re using less antibiotics. It is a lot less time and a lot less stress. It’s made life a lot easier.”

It is important to remember that pneumonia is a complex, multifactorial disease that is rarely ever attributed to one factor. Ambition Calf + OM and Omnismart form part of the solution to successful calf rearing that also needs to include best practice and management of colostrum protocols, feeding, bedding, ventilation, and hygiene.


RUMA Calf targets for 2021 – 2024


• Capture and upload data for calculations and benchmarking from 50% of UK calf rearing units by 2024
• Reduce mg/kg antibiotic use by 25%on calf rearing units by 2024 (baseline 2020/21)
• Reduce the number of calves treated by 7.5 calves out of every 100 by 2024 (baseline 2020/21)
• Reduce calf mortality by 1% per year between 2020 – 2024 (baseline 2018).

Did you know

• More than 40% of calves on commercial farms suffer from pneumonia (Royal Veterinary College)
• The average cost of pneumonia is £43 per calf (Royal Veterinary College)
• Pneumonia costs the UK cattle industry an estimated £50 million a year (AHDB)
• A large proportion of the costs caused by pneumonia are hidden. This includes reduced live weight gain and feed conversation efficiency, which can go on to negatively impact the lifetime performance of the animal.

For more information about boosting your calves’ immunity, please contact the Feed and Nutritionists Line on 01278 444829.

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