It is well known how important colostrum is for calf health. Most of us know about the 4 Q’s; Quantity, Quickly, Quality, and squeaky clean.
Quantity – 10-12% of the calf body weight split into two feeds, or a total of 4L within the first 12 hours after birth.
Quickly – the first feed of colostrum must be within 2-3 hours of birth for the most effective absorption of antibodies.
Quality – not all colostrum is made equal. There are many factors that can affect the quality of colostrum (eg. cow age, short dry periods, leaking prior to calving, mastitis). We want more than 50mg of the antibody IgG per mL of colostrum as a minimum concentration. You can measure this with a refractometer (a value of greater than 22%), which we have available in the clinic and cars, as well as to purchase.
squeaky clean – evidence has shown that the higher the number of bacteria in the gut of calves the less antibodies are able to absorb through the gut and into the blood stream. Calving into a clean environment is the first step in making sure that the colostrum you feed does its job. Ensuring all equipment is thoroughly disinfected before use will also help to keep the bacterial load in the colostrum low. With all the nutrients available, warm colostrum can quickly turn into a bacteria soup if it is not cooled within 20 mins of milking or feed within 1h of milking. Ideally we should be treating our colostrum the same as our saleable milk. There is evidence that probiotics (“good” bacteria, but still bacteria) fed either within milk replacer or separately can also be enough to reduce antibody absorption.
It is important to know how well you are managing your colostrum program . We can easily check this at the clinic, or on farm by taking a small amount of blood and measuring the amount of protein in the serum. We can do this for individual calves, or for herd health management we recommend testing at least 12 calves to look for failure of colostrum transfer. For up to 12 calves this costs $120 + travel, and $10 for each additional calf (Prices may change at any time). The test will allow us to understand how well antibodies are being absorbed, and if not adequate we can help to improve your colostrum management for healthier calves.