How do you assess the current situation of calf losses at birth?
Krabbe: Although this proportion has declined in recent years, the current situation continues to be unsatisfactory. It’s clear that a high rate of difficult births will result in an economic loss due to the lost revenue from the calf. For suckler cow operations, this is already decisive for the business results. But for dairy farms, it has a much higher impact when a cow starts lactation “pre-burdened” after a difficult birth. It results in secondary diseases and lower production.
Which factors influence the process involved in the birth of a calf?
Kaske: The most important risk factors for a difficult birth have been known for a long time: overconditioning of the suckler cow, a latent subclinical hypocalcemia (milk fever), a calf that is absolutely or relatively too large, a non-physiological position, maintenance and placement of the calf as well as deformations. The burden of stress on the cow giving birth also plays a crucial role. Stress results in an increased concentration of stress hormones such as cortisol. This reduces the ability of different white blood cells to fulfil their tasks in the immune defence. It explains why the cows’ immune system is weakened during the time of giving birth.
Why does the immune system influence the birth process?
Kaske: During the period around the birth, there are immediate correlations between the energy balance, immune system and mineral balance of a cow – and each of these factors in turn plays a role in preparing the cow for giving birth, the birth process, the discarding of the afterbirth and the – hopefully unproblematic – start of lactation. These risk factors can be influenced and sometimes nearly eliminated through optimised management of the transition cow.
Crystalyx Products GmbH conducted a study in which the influence of specific yeast cell wall components on the calving behaviour of first-calf cows was examined. What were your results?
Krabbe: In the study by Agrargesellschaft Ruppendorf AG, Klingenberg (Saxony), 150 pregnant heifers were given two different formulas of Crystalyx Trockensteher during the last six weeks of their pregnancy. While 78 cows in the control group received the usual formula of Crystalyx Trockensteher, 72 animals in the test group were given a Crystalyx formula with specific yeast cell wall components.
In the test group that received the supplements with yeast cell wall components, the results showed a clear reduction of births that required assistance. The share dropped from 38.5 to 20.8 per cent. The number of stillbirths in the test group was even cut in half.
What do these results mean for practical applications?
Kaske: The results indicate that the addition of the specific yeast cell wall components influences the process of giving birth – and this all the more as the farm itself is managed very well overall and places a high priority on good rearing and feeding conditions. In practical application, this means: in respect to reducing the rate of stillbirths and difficult births, it is not only important to optimise the birth management but obviously also the feeding and use of specific supplements.