Colostrum for One and All – Dr. Laurie Winkelman

Posted on December 26, 2012 in Starting Strong - Calf Care
By Dr. Laurie Winkelman, Vita Plus dairy nutritionist and technical services specialist
Calves are born into this world without immunity or the ability to fight off pathogens and infections.  Unlike humans, the cow’s placenta does not allow antibodies to transfer from cow to calf.  High quality colostrum is the only way to prepare these newborns for the rest of their lives.

The benefits of feeding high-quality colostrum to newborn heifer calves are obvious.  The same benefits exist for newborn bull calves.  Since most bulls leave the farm within a few days after birth, though, most producers do not see these benefits.

“Out of sight and out of mind” is not an ethically responsible mantra.  Bottom line, it is our responsibility to ensure that all newborn calves receive high-quality colostrum, in the right amount, and in a timely manner.

Vita Plus and Ag Partners in Goodhue, Minn. carried out a survey to take a look at colostrum quality at nearly 30 farms.

In our survey, 20 percent of colostrum samples were below the recommended IgG concentrations for feeding newborns.  That doesn’t mean this colostrum was fed to calves, but it was what was produced by the cows.  Additionally, on a farm level, one-quarter of the farms had an average Brix refractometer reading below the minimum cutoff.

Half of the farms in the survey had more than 25 percent of colostrum samples below minimum quality standards.  To make matters even more grim, only about 13 percent of U.S. farms perform any type of colostrum evaluation.

The bottom line:  If colostrum quality is not measured on the farm, it is possible and likely that newborn calves, regardless of sex, could receive suboptimal colostrum.  With this in mind, it is necessary to have a colostrum plan in place for newborns and ensure all receive high-quality colostrum or colostrum replacer.

First, measure the colostrum quality with a colostrometer (not as precise, use when colostrum is at room temperature) or a refractometer (better accuracy).  Using the colostrometer, the goal is to have colostrum that contains greater than 50 mg/mL of Ig.  For a Brix refractometer, either optical or digital, a value of 22 percent corresponds to an IgG measurement of 50 mg/mL.

The storage method is also important.  Freezing is the best method for long-term storage as refrigeration allows bacteria to multiply and grow.  Two-quart bottles or gallon Ziplock bags can be used to store colostrum.  Each container should be labeled with the date and dam’s identification.

Do not pool colostrum from multiple cows; try to test and keep each cow’s colostrum separate.

Colostrum selected for the reserve should be of sufficient IgG concentration.  It should also come from cows or heifers that are healthy, mastitis-free, have not leaked milk before calving, have had at least a 45-day dry period, and are disease-free.

Numerous products are available to feed to newborn calves when high-quality maternal colostrum is in short supply.  Colostrum supplements and replacers are very different products.  Supplements alone do not provide enough IgG to have successful passive transfer.

Colostrum replacers, on the other hand, can be fed as stand-alone products for successful passive transfer.  The price of these products reflects the amount of IgG provided.  Colostrum replacers have another benefit:  eliminating the risk of disease transfer from milk to newborn calves.  Look for replacers that have proven efficacy, as not all products have been tested.

If you haven’t evaluated your colostrum and newborn calf program in a while, now is the time to do so.  Have a plan in place to ensure that every newborn calf receives adequate high-quality colostrum.

This article was originally printed in its entirety in the December 2012 issue of Hoard’s Dairyman.

Category: Colostrum management
Dairy beef production
Starting Strong - Calf Care