Ruminants in Russia: An Interview with Zanetta Chodorowska, Ruminant Technical Manager, BIOMIN

DN: What mistakes do Russian livestock farmers make in calf raising?

ZC: The problem on many farms is that they do not use colostrum to its full potential. We hope the calves get it, but the quality of colostrum is not always high. But we can influence the quality and quantity of colostrum. If we properly prepare the cow in the dry period, she will be stronger, the calf will be stronger, and the colostrum will be of a higher quality. It is important to make sure that the colostrum does not contain bacteria, and that the equipment used is clean. Also, we can perform cow vaccination depending on the problems revealed. It is important that vaccination is carried out fast enough, no later than 30 days before calving. Colostrum is a very valuable product. We cannot buy it anywhere; no veterinary medications can be better than natural colostrum. It contains the most important substances the calf needs. Also, I consider it very important that the farm staff keep a protocol showing how to collect colostrum, how to heat it, at what temperature and when, so there will be no questions when new specialists arrive. The human factor has a great impact on production efficiency.

DN: You work in many countries. Is there any difference in the methods of young stock raising between Russia and other countries? What “trends” in young stock raising do you observe in Russia?

ZC: In any country, there are very good farms, and also those that lack modern technologies and experience. But in all countries there have been problems with young livestock raising. At this point we lose money. Many people think that if calves do not grow well, the necessary weight gain can be reached later. But that is not the case. There is no such concept as “growth compensation”. Heifers that did not grow well due to diseases, later can look the same as healthy ones, but will never achieve equal milk yields. In all countries farmers know that. Also, in all countries they make sure the calves up to 8 weeks grow very fast. It is important to ensure that calves do not lose weight after their weaning and their transfer to a starter feed. In Russia, everybody has decided that they have to start feeding calves with a starter as early as possible, however, the rumen is not developed enough to feed the calf with a starter only. I think that, in comparison with what I see on farms, the period of milk feeding should be somewhat increased. In Russia, the weather is not considered. Calves get the same amount of milk in any weather, but when it is cold, calves need more energy and the amount of milk should be increased by 30%. But now there is summer ahead and new challenges will arise, such as heat stress. It is necessary to make sure the feed intake does not decrease.

DN: Are there currently any new developments for calves in veterinary science?

ZC: I cannot say there are innovative developments; it is important to look after the calves and constantly take care of them. Young livestock raising and increasing milk production is very hard work, and you need to follow the routine you have set. Animals do not like it when we “switch to innovations” every day.  To get the effect, it is important to do everything just as the protocol says, and not switch to other products. I see how people start introducing feed additives, and expect to get the result tomorrow. It cannot be achieved in one day.

But there is a very important trend in the world, which is a gradual withdrawal from antibiotics. Currently, we are actively developing products which could replace antibiotics. For this purpose, phytogenics and milk acidifiers can be used.

DN: BIOMIN uses only biological products. Are there any solutions for young livestock?

ZC: We make sure the feed intake by cows in the last days of the dry period is very good. But good does not mean very high. It means it should not decrease in comparison to the previous level of feed intake. And then we include the phytogenic Digestarom® in the diet. Mycofix® is also added, because during the dry period, the cow’s diet contains a lot of straw, but the quality of straw on various farms is very different. On some farms it may have mold, on some there are mycotoxins produced. We add Mycofix, as we know that mycotoxins decrease feed intake. In that period, we pay attention to the rumen function. To help its functioning, Levabon® Rumen E yeast can be used. Also, we offer Biotronic®, a milk acidifier for calves which does not ferment the milk, but acidifies it.

DN: I know you have an MBA in economics. What advice would you give to farmers from the point of view of economization of production? How can they decrease costs?

ZC: It is important to control all production stages and monitor the weight gain of young livestock. If we want to raise young livestock, we need to know their weight gain every day. We need to make sure that it is muscle mass which is increasing, but not fat tissue. If we control this factor, the heifer can be inseminated at 12-13 months, and the first calving will take place at 23 months, which shortens the payback time. Also, various studies at universities in the USA and Europe show that if the heifer is first calving at 23 months, at that age more milk can be obtained and costs can be decreased.

This article originally appeared on The Dairynews (in Russian)