Simple Tips for Colostrum Management

Posted on November 5, 2012 in Starting Strong - Calf Care
Getting calves off to a good start will improve performance and result in a more productive replacement heifer back into the herd. A key component of every good start is colostrum management.

Colostrum is the first milk harvested from the cow after calving and is a concentrated source of vitamins, minerals, fat and protein. It also contains essential immunoglobulins (IgG) that provide the calf with its immunity against disease. Growth factors and hormones further stimulate the calf’s immune system.
Making sure calves receive colostrum upon birth is very important to your bottom line as it results in reduced risk of disease, mortality rates, treatment costs and labor inputs. It also promotes better growth, feed efficiency and productivity. When it comes to colostrum administration, remember the Three Q’s:  quality, quantity and quickness.
Many factors can affect colostrum quality, including breed, volume and nutrition. IgG levels are usually lower for heifers than cows simply because these animals are younger and have thus had a shorter exposure to disease. Prepartum vaccination increases the transfer of specific IgG to colostrum. That’s why it’s ideal to vaccinate cows before calving.
A rule of thumb is that 100 grams of IgG must be consumed by the newborn calf as soon as possible to reach the target of greater than 10 mg per ml of serum IgG. The amount of colostrum needed depends on the calf’s body weight, efficiency of absorption, IgG concentration and cleanliness.  A general recommendation is four quarts of colostrum for a 90-pound calf.
Timing is everything when it comes to colostrum. The concentration of IgG in the cow’s colostrum steadily decreases after calving. In addition, the calf’s ability to absorb IgG starts to decrease shortly after birth. In just six hours, the absorptive capacity is cut in half. In 24 hours, the ability to absorb IgG is nearly nonexistent. Thus, you should make it a priority to feed colostrum within one hour. If that’s not possible, cool the colostrum to below 40°F immediately. Keep in mind that bacteria grow rapidly if the colostrum is kept at room temperature. In a half hour, the number of bacteria can double. Refrigeration is good for only three days and colostrum should not be stored frozen for more than a year.
Dr. Sandra Godden, associate professor at the University of Minnesota College of Veterinary Medicine, suggests another important factor in colostrum management:  cleanliness. Her research showed that calves receiving colostrum with above recommended levels of coliform bacteria were 1.2 times more likely to get sick and 1.3 times more likely to die before within the first eight weeks. Be sure to consider the following points of contamination that may be on your farm:
  • According to a nationwide study by the National Animal health Monitoring Service, fewer than 60 percent of managers clean the udder before collecting colostrum.
  • Milking equipment and buckets should be thoroughly cleaned and dried between milkings.
  • Feeding equipment should be sanitized between feedings.
  • Calves should be kept in clean environments after calving because the newborns tend to suck on fences, gates and other equipment.
With the never-ending demands on a dairy farm, proper colostrum management can be difficult. However, this task is essential to getting calves off to a strong start. By remembering the Three Q’s, producers can start building tomorrow’s herd today.
“Does IgG affect Performance?” Ann Hoskins, Vita Plus Corporation.
“‘Quenliness’ – The new Q of Colostrum Management,” 2005, Jim Salfer, Regional Extension Educator-Dairy, University of Minnesota Extension.

Category: Colostrum management
Starting Strong - Calf Care