Why anatomy is so important when feeding calves
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Calves are born with four stomachs; the abomasum, rumen, reticulum and omasum. The size and importance of each one changes as the calf grows and develops into an adult. Initially, most of the digestion occurs in the abomasum, but over time as the animal matures, the rumen grows to become the largest and most functional stomach.
Calves have a muscular channel that runs in the front wall of the rumen which is called the oesophageal groove. Suckling causes this muscular groove to close, forming an enclosed pipe which transfers milk directly into the abomasum, thus bypassing the rumen. This closure is very important to prevent milk entering the under-developed rumen which would cause a dangerous fermentation resulting in bloat and colic.
It is clear to see the importance of ensuring that the calf suckles properly to guarantee that the milk goes into the correct stomach. The posture of the calf and temperature of the milk will also affect this reflex closure. Therefore, remember that the neck should be slanted downward from the shoulders and its head tilted upwards to replicate the natural suckling position for a calf. In addition, when feeding cold milk the range of ideal temperature is 10-25°C whereas warm milk must be fed within 2-3°C of body temperature. These small changes can make a big difference to the health of calves and their productivity.
Georgina Doel BVetMed MRCVS, Garston Veterinary Group, Frome.
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