Ask the Expert: Pros and Cons of Pasteurizers – Dr. Steve Hayes, Day 1 Technology

Posted on June 26, 2013 in Starting Strong - Calf Care
By Dr. Steve Hayes, DVM, Day 1 Technology

Q:  We are considering the purchase of a colostrum pasteurizer.  What are the pros and cons of these systems?  If we do purchase one, how do we know if it’s working?

A:  Pasteurizers have really become popular in the past 10 years on dairies and calf raising facilities. A pasteurizer is a piece of equipment that, when used correctly, will greatly reduce (if not eliminate) the transfer of pathogenic organisms (Johne’s Disease, Salmonella, E. coli and others) from milk or colostrum to the young calf.

Selecting a colostrum pasteurizer
Traditional pasteurization procedures such as “HTST” or “flash” have not been found to work well with colostrum since colostrum tends to coagulate and create cheese-like residues, which will plug the machine. Recent research has found that traditional batch pasteurization (145 degrees F for 15 minutes) is not as likely to coagulate the colostrum, but it will lead to a reduction in the level of viable antibodies in the colostrum. This is a concern since one of the major reasons to feed colostrum is for the passive transfer of the dam’s antibodies to the calf.

Dr. Sandra Godden’s research group at the University of Minnesota has done research showing that a modified batch pasteurization protocol of 60 degrees C (approximately 140 degrees F) for 60 minutes is effective at greatly reducing/eliminating the transfer of major pathogens that could be in colostrum. This research has led to the development of pasteurizers specifically designed for colostrum on the dairy.  Traditional milk batch pasteurizers are not recommended for colostrum unless they have been programmed to have the above time and temperature levels for colostrum.

You may also find UV pasteurizers on the market, but I am not aware of any data to support their use in pasteurizing colostrum and therefore do not recommend these units.

Another reason to pasteurize colostrum is that colostrum can become contaminated with high levels of bacteria, especially coliforms. Colostrum that is pasteurized and has lower bacteria levels has been found to have a higher efficiency of absorbing antibodies from the intestinal tract. In these situations, the level of passive transfer increases in calves that have been fed pasteurized colostrum over those fed raw colostrum.

Because of the fragile nature of having colostrum heated to a specific time and temperature, I recommend only doing this with a pasteurizer designed for colostrum. Purchase the equipment from a reputable company that can service the machine if needed and follow its directions to make sure the equipment is functioning correctly.

Challenges with colostrum pasteurizers
The concept of having greater efficiency of absorption, higher passive transfer and less transfer of diseases seems pretty good, but a colostrum pasteurizer may not be for everyone.

The first reason is technology. Purchasing and implementing a pasteurizer and associated protocols is not something that just happens. The people involved have to know how to run the machine and they have to know when it is not working correctly. Who will actually be running the machine? Can they be trained and will they take direction on how to properly use a colostrum pasteurizer? These are important questions to answer before adding a new technology to the dairy.

The second reason is cleanliness. Pasteurization does not solve all “cleaning sins.”  Is the operation clean and organized or will the colostrum become re-contaminated after pasteurization? All pasteurizers will have very specific cleaning and sanitation protocols that must be followed to keep the machine operating correctly over time. Are the bottles, nipples and tube feeders clean and spotless today? If not, start with basic cleanliness and hygiene before looking to buy a pasteurizer.

The third reason is cost. Colostrum pasteurizers will run several thousand dollars. If the potential benefit of healthier calves cannot be penciled out over two to three years, you may have a reason to keep doing what you are doing today. We have many high-level dairy operations with excellent protocols for colostrum handling and have few calves get sick. Will it pay for them to have a pasteurizer? This is a decision for the accountants.

Maintaining a pasteurizer
Assuming you purchase a pasteurizer, what can be done to monitor its effectiveness? Do routine checking of colostrum for standard plate count and coliform counts. The ideal place to take these samples would be from the end of the nipple if fed by bottle or from the end of the tube feeder just before it goes in the calf’s mouth. The purpose of sampling at this location is to make sure the levels of bacteria the calf actually consumes is acceptable.

Colostrum coming out of the pasteurizer may be clean, but recontamination may occur after pasteurization. If you test and find a high level of bacteria, then you can sample colostrum as it goes into the pasteurizer, comes out of the pasteurizer, comes out of the freezer or refrigerator (if used), and comes out of the nipple or tube feeder. Where do the numbers increase? This will tell you where in the system a good cleaning needs to happen.

A colostrum pasteurizer is a nice addition of technology to the calf raising side of the business. It has been tested and researched, so we know what time and temperature to use to have a quality product delivered to the calf with minimal chance of pathogen transfer. Even still, it is not going to be for everyone.

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Category: Colostrum management
Starting Strong - Calf Care