Essential Colostrum Management Tips for Dairy Farmers

In July 9, 2024

Colostrum management is crucial for ensuring the health of new born dairy calves. It provides the necessary antibodies to protect against diseases and supports the calf’s growth and development. Here are practical tips based on current research to help you manage colostrum effectively on your farm.

Read our blog on colostrum and future lifetime performance.

  1. Cow Management for Quality Colostrum
  • Nutrition and Health: Ensure cows receive a balanced diet and appropriate healthcare during the dry period. A healthy cow will produce high-quality colostrum rich in immunoglobulins. Ensure enough energy and protein in the dry cow diet as Colostrogenesis occurs for 14 days before calving.
  • Vaccination: Implement a proper vaccination program to enhance the immunoglobulin content of the colostrum, providing better disease resistance for the calves.
  1. Hygiene of Colostrum Handling
  • Clean Collection: Always collect colostrum in clean, sanitized containers. Ensure the cow’s udder is clean before milking to minimize bacterial contamination. If we get Ecoli growing in colostrum this can be a very bad start for the calf. The gut is open to ingest antibodies and we don’t want ecoli in colostrum. Remember colostrum has twice the fat and protein of milk making it an ideal environement for bacterial overgrowth.
  • Cleaning: Make sure you use a detergent like washing up liquid to clean colostrum bottles and tubes. As well as a separate disinfectant.
  • Storage: Store colostrum in clean containers. If not used immediately, refrigerate it within an hour or freeze it for long-term storage. Thaw frozen colostrum gradually in warm water to preserve its quality. If you cant put your hand in the water don’t put colostrum into the water for defrosting.
  1. Feeding the Right Amount
  • Initial Feeding: Feed at least 3 to 4 litres (10-12% of body weight) of high-quality colostrum within the first 1-2 hours after birth. This early feeding is critical for maximizing immunoglobulin absorption.
  • Subsequent Feedings: Offer an additional 2 litres of colostrum 12 hours later to ensure continued immunity support.
  1. Testing Colostrum Quality
  • Brix Refractometer: Use a Brix refractometer to measure the total solids in colostrum. A Brix reading of 22 or greater indicates high-quality colostrum suitable for the first feeding. Colostrum with a reading of 18-21 is fair and can be used for later feedings.
  • Visual Inspection: High-quality colostrum should be thick and creamy in appearance. If it appears thin and watery, it likely has lower immunoglobulin content but testing is the best way to make sure.
  1. Why Speed Matters
  • Absorption Window: The ability of calves to absorb immunoglobulins decreases rapidly after birth. They can absorb about 66% of the ingested immunoglobulins at 6 hours old, but this drops to just 11% by 24 hours. Feeding colostrum promptly ensures the calf receives maximum immunity benefits.
  1. Preventing Contamination
  • Avoid Pooling: Do not pool colostrum from multiple cows as this increases the risk of spreading infections especially if Johnes disease is a risk on the farm.
  • Sanitary Practices: Use clean, sanitized equipment for milking and feeding. Bacterial contamination can bind immunoglobulins, making them ineffective and exposing calves to early infections.
  1. Monitoring and Records
  • Track Intake: Keep records of each calf’s colostrum intake, including the quantity and quality. Monitor their health to ensure they are thriving.
  • Health Checks: Regularly check serum immunoglobulin levels in calves 24-48 hours after birth to ensure adequate transfer of passive immunity.

Precision Microbes: Enhancing Calf Health

For optimal calf health and growth, consider using Precision Microbes’ unique probiotic and postbiotic liquid. This helps maintain a healthy microbial balance, reducing the risk of infections and improving overall calf health.

Precision microbes can be fed at birth with colostrum read our protocols for use on dairy calves here. Contact us today to find out more: #PuttingPrecisionIntoCalfNutrition

By following these actionable tips, you can significantly improve the health and survival rates of your dairy calves. Proper colostrum management is the foundation of a successful dairy operation, ensuring that your calves get the best possible start in life. For more detailed guidance and support, consult with a dairy nutritionist or your local veterinary advisor.