Top Tips For The Best Colostrum

12th December, 2021
Calf looking at camera


1. 1st Milk (Colostrum)

2. Within 2 hours of birth

3. 3 Litres 

How important is Colostrum for your calves?

Inadequate colostrum intakes can have devastating effects on calf health.

It’s free, nature has designed the young calf to obtain its immunity from the first milk of its mother! While many synthetic options are on the market none compared to the real thing.

Colostrum production begins in the 2 weeks before calving and can be influenced by diet and health of the cow. So, managing your dry cow? helps her but also the health of her future offspring.

The blood supply of the cow and calf in the womb don’t allow the transfer of immunoglobulins which are large proteins responsible for immune function. The only way a calf can get this natural immunity is from its mother’s milk. 

It can take a calf 6 months to fully develop its own immune system, so what it borrows off the mother at birth is essential to its health.

Our modern dairy cows have larger volumes of milk which often means the first milk or colostrum is more diluted. Meaning a calf requires larger volumes than a suckler calf typically would. Therefore, a dairy calf that naturally suckles may be at more risk of not obtaining enough colostrum. It is estimated by naturally suckling it could take a calf 20-25 minutes to consume 1 litre of milk.

After a cow calves it is recommended that quality of colostrum can drop after 6 hours, so prompt milking and feeding of first milk is important. 3 litres are what the calf requires in the first 2 hours.

Colostrum contains many other agents like fats and energy which are important to the new-born. It also may have much more, like growth factors and hormones that help gut development and even metabolic development. 

Simply put the colostrum fed may have effects on short term health and maybe lifetime production. Remember colostrum is only the first milk, the 2nd milking is transition milk and has far less immunoglobulins.

A calves gut will rapidly lose its ability to digest these important proteins over a short period of time. After 6 hours its ability is halved and after 24 hours after birth the calf cannot absorb these all-important proteins. 

So, we suggest getting this important feed in the first 2 hours. The calves gut literally will close with time not allowing it to absorb these large lifesaving proteins.

When a calves head enters the birth canal it can be exposed to bacteria and viruses, so from the very beginning there are challenges. The bodies ability to fight these infections is through a healthy immune system. 

When a calf suckles for the first time a groove closes in the oesophagus which directs the milk into the correct stomach (abomasum). 

It is then suggested suckling is best, perhaps from a teat feeder or bottle to ensure adequate volumes have been consumed.

Stomach tubing colostrum as a once off will allow milk to flow into an under developed rumen and then back into the milk stomach or abomasum. 

Repeated tubing is not advised but can be very useful to ensure intakes or with weak calves.

Have a stomach tube for colostrum feeding only. Don’t use the sick calf stomach tube to feed colostrum, the risk of disease spread is way too big. Have two stomach tubes on farm.

The modern dairy cow has reduced mothering abilities. Therefore, removing the calf promptly prevents calves getting exposed to disease in calving pens. Ensure when doing this calves get their colostrum feeding.

Colostrum should be refrigerated after 6 hours and when frozen can be stored safely for up to 1 year. Colostrum left in containers can lead to bacteria growing in it, this will reduce antibodies and increase the risk of infection in calves.

The best way to store colostrum is in flat bags with a large surface area which allow more rapid thawing. Thawing should be done at temperatures no greater than 50 degrees Celsius. If you can’t put your hand in the water because it’s too hot you shouldn’t put the colostrum in it. Never microwave colostrum you’ll destroy the proteins (immunoglobulins) in it, rendering it almost useless.