The Importance of Feeding Colostrum

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Feeding a newborn calf adequate levels of good quality colostrum, soon after birth will be a worthwhile investment in your calf rearing program. A calf is born with a passive immunity, with no defence mechanism against disease, unlike humans.

Calves require colostrum to build their immune system. The calf’s ability to absorb colostrum straight after birth is extremely high, within 6 hours of birth the absorption capacity is reduced by 30-50%. Absorption in the calf stops completely between 24-36 hours.

When calves do not receive adequate amounts of colostrum, they are predisposed to disease, increased risk of scours, and higher mortality levels. If quality colostrum is fed within 6-12 hours of the calves life, the growth rate is increased, heifers will reach joining age sooner and milk production will be improved long term.

Calf feeding on Reid Stockfeeds










What is colostrum?

Colostrum is produced in the dam’s udder in the weeks leading up to calving and production completely stops once the cow has calved. Colostrum is at its strongest concentration and highest quality at the point of calving.

Colostrum is a unique mixture of components derived from the cows udder and blood. It has five main constituents that work together to provide disease protection for the calf. These include: antibodies (Immunoglobulins IgG, IgM and IgA), white blood cells, growth factors, antimicrobial factors and nutrients. It is a highly nutritious and energy dense feed for the newborn calf. Calves do not start producing their own immunoglobulins until at least 10 days of age.

Collecting colostrum

Basic hygiene is important in the collection and storing of colostrum. Ensure the use of clean equipment and feeders. Also remember to keep colostrum chilled or frozen to reduce risk of contamination.

Colostrum quality

Is influenced by a number of factors including breed and lactation number. Jerseys have the highest level of IgG because of the lower volume produced. Older cows generally have higher quality colostrum, due to the greater exposure to disease. High quality colostrum is defined as having an IgG concentration of greater than 50mg/ml.

Different methods of storing colostrum:

No refrigeration: lasts about 24hours before quality starts to deteriorate and bacteria counts start to increase.

Refrigeration: can be stored for up to 3-4days, label containers, give newborns the freshest colostrum

Freezing: can be held for 12 months without any significant losses. Thawing of colostrum cannot be rushed, use warm water (not greater than 40C) to avoid damaging the antibodies. NEVER defrost in microwave.

How much colostrum is enough?

Calves left to suckle on their dam will most likely not receive desired quantity of colostrum, compared to removing calf as soon as possible and stomach tubing.

To estimate how much colostrum to provide, you need to know roughly the calf’s body weight.

10-12% of calf bodyweight must be fed as colostrum in the first 6-12 hours after birth to allow the calf to have the greatest uptake. We are aiming to raise the antibody concentration in the calf’s blood to at least 10mg/ml within 24-48 hours after birth.

Have a close look at your current colostrum management plan and see where improvements can be made. If you need any further information please contact Reid Stockfeeds Technical Services team in your area.

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