Ask the Expert: What Should I Include in my Colostrum Management Protocols? – Dr. Don Niles, Dairy Dreams LLC

Posted on October 27, 2014 in Starting Strong - Calf Care
By Dr. Don Niles, Dairy Dreams LLC

Question:  In the next couple of months, I want to establish a colostrum management protocol that will help my team effectively deliver high quality colostrum to every calf.  Can you share an example of a successful program?

A:  At Dairy Dreams, we are very interested in raising the healthiest calves possible.  This means we have to start with a solid colostrum program and then continually monitor it to make sure we are achieving our goals.

Our colostrum program begins in the calving pen.  Each of the six maternity stalls on our 3,000-cow operation has a vacuum line in place.  The fresh cow is milked immediately after giving birth.  We feel this gives us the highest quality colostrum since it has had virtually no opportunity to be diluted by the milk the cow is starting to produce.

As soon as the colostrum is milked out, it is tested with a colostrometer.  If the colostrum tests acceptably, a gallon of it is immediately fed to the newborn calf via esophageal feeder.  Our goal is to have a gallon of colostrum in the calf within 20 minutes of birth. This rapid transfer has several advantages:

  • The calf receives colostrum immediately after birth.
  • The colostrum does not need to be heated to body temperature since it hasn’t had a chance to cool.
  • The colostrum has had no chance to start growing harmful bacteria.

To monitor this program and make sure it is performing as intended, we test serum protein levels on the newborns.  Our goal is to have 95 percent of our calves above a 5.2 on our test.  This reassures that protocols are properly implemented.  If we don’t meet that goal, we will analyze our results to see if we have an overall problem in our performance or perhaps a problem with just one individual.

The process is very simple.  Twice a week, we take a blood sample of calves between two and six days of age.  We take two blood samples at this time; we use one to test for protein levels ourselves and send the other to a lab for BVD PI testing.

The serum protein test is conducted with a refractometer.  This is a simple process as we use a handheld testing device.  In general, 30 samples can be tested in about 15 minutes.  Click here for refractometer tips.

Once the testing is done, we enter the results in DC305.  As part of the fresh cow entry, we record information from our maternity team, including the colostrometer’s reading and the individual maternity worker that was responsible for feeding that calf her colostrum (we have one maternity worker on each of the three shifts).

Once the results are entered in DC305, we print a report as shown here.  On this report we can see the following information:

  • Calf ID
  • Serum protein for each calf (CPROT)
  • Calf’s birth date (BDAT)
  • Colostrumeter reading for that calf’s colostrum (CMTR)
  • Manager of that calf’s colostrum feeding (CMAN)
  • Calf’s dam’s ID (DID)

We depend on this report to show us several things.  Is our colostrum program performing to our goal of 95 percent at or above 5.2?  If the program is not producing the desired results, why not?

If we note a problem with serum proteins across all the different maternity workers, we want to look at the whole program.   For instance, do we have a problem with our pre-fresh ration that is impacting colostrum quality or quantity?

If, on the other hand, the problem calves were all handled by the same individual, do we have a training or compliance problem?  This can help us identify who may require more training or may not be suited for the maternity position.  We have found this testing and recordkeeping strategy gives us a lot of valuable information and only takes a few seconds to analyze.

Category: Colostrum management
Starting Strong - Calf Care
Technology and data management