Colostrum management (part 2): Successfully feeding high-quality colostrum
By Dr. Noah Litherland
Colostrum processing and storage
Heat-treating colostrum at 140 degrees F for 60 minutes is a best management practice to decrease the risk of pathogen transfer and to increase the absorption efficiency of IgG. Decreasing the bacteria population in colostrum decreases potential damage to colostrum components prior to feeding and increases the efficiency of absorption of colostrum IgG.
One convenient strategy to heat-treat colostrum is to place colostrum into quart canning jars and then place the jars with lids into a heat-treating water bath. Closely monitor temperature with a digital thermometer to ensure temperature does not exceed 140 degrees F during heat treatment to prevent damage to colostrum immunoglobulin proteins. High-quality colostrum with a Brix value of 25% or greater is heat-sensitive and we have found success with lowering the temperature to 138 degrees F and increasing heat-treating time to 70 minutes to prevent damage to this high-quality but sensitive colostrum.
Remember that heat-treating colostrum is not sterilization, so principles of quality milk handling – such as equipment sanitization, appropriate cooling and storage – will impact bacteria counts in colostrum.
Second-milking colostrum should be tested with a Brix refractometer as well. Consider heat-treating and saving it for a second feeding when high-test colostrum is in short supply, which is common at the beginning of the kidding season. Inventorying colostrum replacer is good insurance in case colostrum supply runs short. Follow mixing directions on the package with a target of delivering 20 to 25 grams of IgG (not grams of product) per kid.
Excess colostrum can be bagged into quart freezer bags and labeled with the Brix reading, indication of whether it should be used for first or second feeding, date of collection, and any other notes. Filling quart colostrum bags only half full (1 pint of colostrum) and storing them flat allows them to cool rapidly in the freezer. Double-bagging prevents leaks during the thawing and warming process. Heat-treated colostrum can be refrigerated for two to three days or should be frozen for up to one year in a deep freeze (-20 degrees F).
Processing newborn kids and colostrum feeding
Removing kids from the dam shortly after birth helps ensure the kids are kept clean, risk of frost bite damage is minimized, and timely drying and warming of kids can take place. A dry, clean and warm room with a temperature of 50 to 60 degrees F works well. Towel-dry kids and use a hair dryer to speed the drying and warming process.
After kids are dry and warm, offer colostrum. Research with calves suggest that body temperature is important to the passive transfer process as calves that are cold or fed cool colostrum will have slower rates of IgG absorption and achieve lower peak IgG in blood. Submersion hypothermia can occur within 10 to 15 minutes of being exposed to freezing temperatures when the body surface is wet, as is often the case with kidding in the upper Midwest during winter.
Following heat treatment, colostrum should be cooled to a feeding temperature of 104 to 106 degrees F and then fed through a nipple bottle with an appropriately sized teat opening or tube-fed by trained and experienced feeders.
We suggest feeding colostrum via nipple in small amounts until the kid(s) are satiated – ideally achieving 1 ounce of colostrum per pound of bodyweight. Once the kid stops drinking voluntarily, rubbing it with a towel for a minute will often stimulate the kid to drink another half-ounce. If the kid refuses to drink after working with it, then tube-feeding 1 to 2 ounces of colostrum may be necessary. If the kid refuses to drink out of the bottle, tube-feeding the kid by a trained and experienced feeder may be necessary to guarantee that colostrum feeding within the first six hours of life.
Dip the kid’s navel in tincture of iodine solution. Deep straw bedding in clean poly tubs helps keep kids warm and dry between feedings. Place the tubs on clean pallets to raise them off the floor. This allows warm air to circulate under the tubs, keeping them warm, and offers an ergonomic advantage for newborn kid caretakers. The tubs should not be excessively high in case kids climb out of their tubs and fall.
A second and third feeding of colostrum in the first 24 hours after birth to achieve intake of at least 12 ounces of colostrum typically provides kids with good passive transfer. Kids in singleton or twin kiddings with normal birthing presentation are typically larger and have mor vigor than kids born as triplets or with birthing complications. These stressed kids will require great time and effort if the first hours after birth to increase rearing success. Colostrum that is not consumed by the kid can be refrigerated and rewarmed at the next feeding that should occur four to six hours after the first feeding. We suggest placing a clean nipple or cap on the bottle prior to refrigeration and submersing the bottle in a small bucket of ice water in the refrigerator to rapidly cool the colostrum and prevent bacterial growth.
Proper steps to harvest, manage, and feed colostrum increase kid performance and decrease risk of negative health events. Develop and refine the colostrum management process on your farm to make it effective, consistent, and convenient. Visit with your Vita Plus specialist to learn more about optimizing your newborn kid program.
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.
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