The objective of this randomized clinical trial was to determine if an intervention with colostrum replacer (CR; Premolac Plus, Zinpro; 125 g/d fed for 3 d) or a placebo milk replacer (Cows Match, Land O'Lakes Inc.; 125 g/d for 3 d) following a triggered alarm could ameliorate disease bouts in dairy calves. The alarm was set to detect negative deviations of milk intake (20% reduction) or drinking speed (30% reduction) in relation to a calf's 12-d rolling average feeding behavior. Calves were enrolled on this study (n = 42 CR, n = 42 placebo) when they triggered an alarm from d 14 to 50 on the feeder before weaning. Once calves were enrolled, calves received a bottle of either 125 g of CR or milk replacer mixed with 1 L of water for 3 d. Calves were enrolled on the automated milk feeder at age 4.0 ± 2.0 d (mean ± SD), were offered 10 L/d of the same milk replacer fed as a placebo, and had ad libitum access to calf starter measured by automated feeders. Weaning began at d 50, with 50% reduction of milk replacer across 14 d, and an additional 20% reduction for another 7 d before weaning at d 70. Calves were health scored from birth to 2 wk postweaning (88 ± 2.0 d of age) daily for bovine respiratory disease (BRD) and diarrhea, and were weighed and scored using lung ultrasonography twice weekly. A BRD score ≥ 5 and an area of consolidated lung ≥ 3.0 cm2 was considered BRD positive; diarrhea was defined as a watery fecal consistency that sifted through the bedding. The effect of CR on BRD and diarrhea likelihood were calculated with logistic models; the 7 d before and after an alarm were fixed effects, with milk intake as a covariate. A Cox proportional hazards model evaluated the effect of CR on the hazard of being positive for BRD and diarrhea following enrollment, with sex as a fixed effect in the diarrhea model. The effect of CR on average daily gain the week following intervention was evaluated with linear modeling with repeated measures, and birth date was a random effect. After intervention, placebo calves had 1.64 (95% CI: 1.11–2.43) times greater odds of having a BRD bout compared with CR calves for the 7 d following intervention. Moreover, placebo calves had 1.50 (95% CI: 1.11–2.08) times greater odds of having lobar lung consolidation in the 7 d after intervention than CR calves. No difference was found in the likelihood of diarrhea in the 7 d after intervention (odds ratio: 0.91; 95% CI: 0.71–1.16). However, placebo calves had a 2.38 (95% CI: 1.30–4.33) times greater hazard of incurring BRD in the 14 d after intervention. Average daily gain was not associated with an intervention with CR for the 7 d after intervention (placebo: 0.73 ± 0.07 kg/d; CR: 0.70 ± 0.08 kg/d; LSM ± SEM). These results suggest CR may reduce BRD likelihood but did not influence growth in calves offered high allowances of milk. Future research should examine which properties of CR ameliorate BRD in calves.

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Published in Journal of Dairy Science.

© 2021 The Authors

This is an open access article under the CC BY-NC-ND license (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0/).

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Funding Information

The research for this study was funded by a USDA NIFA Hatch Grant Project KY007100 at the University of Kentucky.