Counting on Colostrum
“Usually by 3-4 days after calving the cow no longer produces colostrum milk,” said Dr. Scott Poock, extension specialist in veterinary medicine and continuing education
at the University of Missouri. “In fact, the quality of the colostrum quickly lessens after calving. Therefore, it is very important to collect the colostrum as soon as possible after the cow calves and feed it to the calf.”
For the first few weeks of life, the calf depends on ingested antibodies from the maternal colostrum to protect it from disease, said Dr. Andrew Fidler, instructor for the Department of Animal Sciences at the University of Arkansas. “The colostrum also contains higher than normal levels of other nutrients that are beneficial to the calf.”
On average the cow’s milk contains more fat and protein than milk replacer. “Typical milk from a Holstein cow will be approximately 30 percent fat and 25 percent protein (on a dry matter basis),” Poock said. “Most milk replacers will run 15-20 percent fat and 20-28 percent protein (dry matter basis) depending on the product. There are pros and cons of whether to feed pasteurized milk or unpasteurized waste milk.”
Cleanliness is essential when using stored colostrum. “The colostrum should be harvested as if it were normal milk for human consumption, just in a different bucket,” Fidler said. “The best quality colostrum is collected from the dam within six hours of calving, with the calf being removed from the dam as soon as possible, before the calf suckles the dam. As more time passes, the colostrum is diluted by normal milk produced in the mammary gland, and the concentration of antibodies and other useful nutrients will decrease.”
When using colostrum, timing of feeding is also critical. “The calf’s ability to absorb the antibodies from the colostrum quickly decreases after birth,” Fidler said. “Colostrum should be fed within 6 hours of birth. If the entire volume cannot be ingested within the first 6 hours, the remainder should be fed within the first 12 hours of birth.”
According to Fidler, the colostrum should be put into zip-close bags and laid flat in order to result in faster cooling of the colostrum to prevent the overgrowth of bad bacteria.
Colostrum milk can be refrigerated for one week or frozen for six months. Therefore, it is important to date the colostrum. The farmer should test the quality of the colostrum and put the cow’s identity on the stored colostrum. This information should be recorded on the calf’s record after consuming the colostrum.
Milk must be stored refrigerated or frozen. It is not recommended to mix milk from different cows for a calf feeding supply, unless you heat-treat the colostrum.
“The most important meal the calf will ever get is the first feeding of colostrum,” Poock said. “We know this has effects on the health of the calf and lifetime productivity. It is normal to give two feedings of colostrum to a calf and that is adequate.”
Colostrum from the cow is always preferred. “However, if that is not possible (poor quality colostrum, unclean colostrum, etc.) or the farm has issues with certain diseases, the colostrum replacers are a good alternative.”