Colostrum management (part 1): Start with the doe

Posted on January 28, 2022 in Dairy Goat Performance
Editor’s note: This article is the first in a two-part series focused on colostrum management.  In this article, we discuss the factors that impact maternal colostrum quality and how to ensure colostrum is harvested as quickly and cleanly as possible.  In part 2, we’ll explore strategies to heat-treat, store and feed colostrum.

By Dr. Noah Litherland

2017 Litherland - webWe only have one opportunity per doe to harvest colostrum and to feed her kids quality colostrum, so let’s develop a plan to do it right!  Do you have opportunities to manage colostrum more effectively this year?

Colostrum contains nutrients, immune factors, hormonal signals and microbial growth factors.  Colostrum is also rich in protein, fat and minerals that provide kids with nutrients needed for rapid changes occurring in the first day of life after birth.  Some of the key components of colostrum include:

  • Immune factors – such as IgG, IgA, and IgM – provide passive immune protection from viruses, bacteria, and protozoa until the kid’s active immune system becomes functional.
  • Hormonal signals – such as insulin and IGF-1 – cause intestinal cells to mature and perform important tasks, such as absorbing and metabolizing glucose, and play a role in thermogenesis to maintain body temperature.
  • Specific carbohydrates in colostrum influence microbial populations in the small and large intestine. Increasing the number of beneficial bacteria (bifidobacterial) to compete with and suppress the growth of pathogenic bacteria both increases growth efficiency and decreases the severity and duration of infection.

Dam nutrition and management

Cellular changes in the udder associated with colostrum production (colostrogenesis) start about 30 days before kidding.  The blood-mammary barrier becomes permeable and immune components that are normally carried in blood to protect the dam become concentrated in mammary tissue.  These immune components are packaged in the whey fraction of colostrum along with other components, including casein, fat, lactose, functional carbohydrates, macro- and microminerals, vitamins, hormones, and growth factors.

Nutrition and management of the dam impacts colostrum quality and perhaps volume.  Meeting nutrient requirements for protein, energy, fiber, macro- and microminerals, and vitamins will influence colostrum quality.  The goal is to meet – but not greatly exceed – nutrient requirements and provide a clean and comfortable environment with minimal stress.  Offer clean and fresh drinking water ad libitum or at a minimum twice daily during the dry period.

Seasonal kidding systems with a 60-day dry period typically result in a dry period starting late fall with kidding beginning in December and lasting through late spring.  Does that are carrying multiple kids during the winter will require great amounts of energy and increased amounts of bedding.  Additionally, first-freshening does should be well-grown to achieve approximately 80% of their mature bodyweight at kidding at close to one year of age.  Feed to maintain body condition score from dry-off to kidding.  Does should not gain excessive amounts of body condition during late gestation.  Assess body condition with both visual appraisal and manual inspection by feeling for excessive flesh accumulation in the brisket and throat as well as over the back and the ribs.

Colostrum harvesting

The kidding pen should be kept clean and dry with fresh straw added frequently.  Offer does one to two gallons of warm (104 degrees F) water after kidding   Harvest colostrum within one hour after kidding by bringing the doe into the milking parlor and thoroughly prep her udder by washing with warm water and a germicidal udder wash.

Wear disposable gloves.  Discard the first few squirts of colostrum from each teat by stripping into a strip cup, checking for mastitis or abnormalities in the colostrum.  Harvest colostrum by milking into a clean stainless-steel bucket or harvest with a clean milking machine.  Colostrum yield will typically vary from 1 pint up to 2 quarts or more.  Measure colostrum quality by placing two to three drops of warm colostrum onto a digital refractometer with a Brix scale.  Good-quality colostrum will have a Brix score of 21% to 25% and excellent colostrum will have a Brix score of 26% or greater.  Colostrum with a Brix score of 20% or below should be used for the second feeding.

In part 2 of this series, we’ll discuss how to process, store and feed maternal colostrum to give kids the best start possible.

About the author: Dr. Noah Litherland is a Vita Plus dairy technical specialist.  He grew up on a diversified livestock farm in central Illinois and was active in 4-H and FFA as a youth.  He earned his bachelor’s, master’s and Ph.D. from the University of Illinois, focusing on dairy cattle nutritional physiology.  He worked as a dairy extension specialist at Oklahoma State University from 2006 to 2008 and then as a dairy nutritionist at the University of Minnesota until 2014.  At Minnesota, Litherland served as the faculty supervisor of dairy research on the St. Paul campus. 

Category: Animal health
Dairy Goat Performance
Doe nutrition
Kid nutrition