Managing Through Autumn Colostrum Slump – Dr. Noah Litherland, Vita Plus

Posted on October 28, 2015 in Starting Strong - Calf Care
Dr. Noah Litherland, Vita Plus dairy youngstock technical specialist
We’ve arrived at the time of year when we hear reports of low colostrum yield from fresh cows.  Field results indicate colostrum yield may reach a low point in November and December, averaging less than 5 pounds of milk per cow at first milking.

Both colostrum quality and quantity have important implications for calf health and performance.  An average Holstein heifer calf weighing 85 pounds needs 10 percent of its birth bodyweight (8.5 pounds) of colostrum at first feeding.

We have not found clear links between nutrition and colostrum volume as long as diets meet nutrient requirements and predicted intakes are achieved.  We do know there is a relationship between lipid mobilization prepartum and colostrum yield.  High colostrum yield is typically correlated with greater pre- and postpartum serum NEFA , BHBA and liver triglycerides (which are associated with other fresh cow metabolic issues).

In addition, we’re learning that low colostrum yield might actually be delayed colostrum yield.  In fact, cows may take up to 8 to 10 hours after calving to produce larger volumes of colostrum.  If cows have not bagged up shortly after calving, give them another three hours or so to let down their colostrum.  Early harvesting of colostrum results in the highest quality and lowest bacterial counts.  However, if the cow has no colostrum, give her three to four hours to come into her milk.

Harvest this colostrum and test it to see if it meets the benchmark of 22 Brix or greater.  Remember, the calf still needs to be fed colostrum as soon as possible after calving, so feed 1 gallon of stored high-quality colostrum to the newborn within two hours of birth.

Finally, here are some basic management tips to consider if you’re noticing a colostrum slump on your farm:

  • Look for any changes in your far-off and close-up cows this fall.  These observations might be helpful in understanding colostrum yield problems at freshening.  Changes in the udder associated with colostrum production occur about 60 days prepartum.
  • Evaluate your expected versus actual calving date.  Are cows calving early?
  • Consider dry periods of 42 to 60 days for multiparous cows.  Dry periods less than 42 days are associated with a decrease in colostrum volume.  rBST schedules might need to be adjusted to accommodate a longer dry period.
  • Make sure dry cow vaccinations are given according to label instructions.  Administering these vaccinations too close to the calving date reduces their effectiveness.
  • Consider maintaining a photoperiod of 12 hours of light for dry cows (instead of allowing natural short day length).  Research conducted in Florida shows a clear impact of the photoperiod on lactogenesis.  Perhaps cows will respond more consistently if the low point of day length is minimized.
  • Double-check all drinking fountains accessible to far-off and close-up cows.  We have seen a few instances where water intake seemed to be the factor that most limited colostrum yield.
  • Use a simple scale to measure colostrum yield on at least a subset of cows.  This will tell you how much colostrum you’re actually getting and can aid in troubleshooting.
  • Freeze as much high-quality colostrum (Brix greater than 22) as possible to fill in the gaps.  Milkers should save as much colostrum as herd health protocols permit.
  • Refrigerate and/or freeze colostrum in half-gallon containers or bags to facilitate fast chilling for storage and fast thawing at feeding.  Refrigerate for less than 24 hours.  Add potassium sorbate (a preservative) if refrigerating longer than 24 hours.
  • Keep a proven colostrum replacer on hand.  Train staff on when and how to mix and feed these products if needed.
  • Some producers have indicated benefits of having a few bull calves within sight and/or hearing distance of close-up cows to stimulate maternal behavior.

Category: Colostrum management
Starting Strong - Calf Care
Transition and reproduction