The Udder Side of the Story
After months of anticipation, delivery of the newborn calves is over. Now we have our calves on the ground and we are wanting them to thrive. But we all can look forward to the next season, and a little education goes a long way when it comes to live, healthy calves. Most of us have heard that they (the calf) must have colostrum (mother’s first milk).
How much and what quality colostrum do my calves need?
The last research experiment on colostrum intake and livability of calves was done at The United States Meat Animal Research Center, in Clay Center, Neb. In this experiment, they were able to follow these calves from birth to the knocking box. It was found that the calves receiving one gallon of good quality colostrum within 18 to 24 hours of birth had less sickness throughout their whole life. This experiment backs up the fact on how important that first milk is.
To further extrapolate, most of the calves in this experiment were 80 pounds at birth. A gallon of water weighs 8 pounds and 8 pounds is 10 percent of 80 pounds. Therefore, I believe we need to figure the amount of colostrum to be given the first 18 to 24 hours of life to a newborn should be around 10 percent of its birth weight. Now, going back to my country boy math, a pint is a pound world round, and then a newborn calf needs a pint of good quality colostrum for every ten pounds of birth weight. Obviously, a 40 pound calf can’t drink one gallon in 24 hours and a 125 pound calf will drink over a gallon of colostrum in the first 24 hours.
What constitutes good quality colostrum and how do we find this information out?
Well, you can buy a colostrometer and use it to measure the quality of your cow’s colostrum. Colostrometer’s cost around $40 to $50 and are made of fragile Pyrex glass. They take one to two ounces of colostrum to work. Personally, I don’t think a fragile piece of Pyrex glass will last very long riding around on a four wheeler, horseback or even at the farm house or barn. I vote for the country boy method. It may be crude and not that scientific, but it does have a direct correlation and has proven to work in the field. Most of us have an antifreeze tester around our shop. If not they can be purchased at any automotive parts store and the good ones only run around $10. A cow better float three and feed only four ball colostrum to newborns. This gives us an idea of what we need that first 18 to 24 hours of life.
When a calf is born but, for whatever reason, there is no colostrum to be found from a cow, we go to the store and buy a pack of that dry artificial colostrum or those boluses. These may and may not work due to the fact that they are only colostrum supplements and not replacements. There are only two or three true replacements on the market and they are high. But, if your calf dies, how much is that calf worth? Check with your local veterinarian to see what he recommends, he may have a source for a true colostrum replacement. I personally, keep a true colostrum replacement and a supplement in stock. A nearby dairy may also have some frozen. But, DO NOT use the microwave to thaw this frozen colostrum. The microwave will destroy the colostrum and it will be digested like milk and not the all important immunity that we need. We have to use the old baby bottle warming trick. I have even used the defroster in my pickup to thaw colostrum.
It is a lot easier and cheaper if the calf and cow will do all this for us, but they don’t all read the book on what is supposed to happen. When it doesn’t, we need to be very aggressive with our reaction. If we take the attitude sit back, wait and see, usually it’s a train wreck.
Dr. Tim O'Neill owns Country Veterinary Clinic in Farmington, Ark.