What do you do when maternal colostrum runs short?

Ann Hoskins
Vita Plus
Years of research prove the immense, long-term impact high-quality colostrum has on the health and performance of calves – the future of your herd.

Years of research prove the immense, long-term impact high-quality colostrum has on the health and performance of calves – the future of your herd.  Inadequate colostrum intake is linked to increased risk of morbidity and mortality, decreased rate of growth, increased cost of gain, increased non-completion rate in first lactation, and decreased lifetime milk production.  That’s why the DCHA Gold Standards state newborn calves should receive 200 grams of IgG.  That’s equivalent to about 1 gallon of average-quality colostrum.

Obviously, maternal colostrum is a high-value asset on your farm.  Unfortunately, that asset often runs short this time of year as many farms see a slump in colostrum production between November and February.  Farms need to have a “plan B” in place as they don’t want to short calves on this vital nutrition.

Keep a colostrum replacer on hand

Because time is of the essence when it comes to feeding colostrum, we recommend stocking a colostrum replacer near your maternity facilities so that it is ready to use when needed.  When choosing a colostrum replacer, consider the following:

  • Does it provide adequate globulin protein to the newborn calf?  Does it do so in one dose?
  • What is the cost per gram of globulin protein?  With many products on the market, it can be difficult to compare one colostrum replacer to the next.  If the price is low, it may be because the product does not provide enough globulin protein, requiring more than one dose or a second feeding 12 hours later.
  • Does it mix into solution quickly and easily?  This is especially relevant when farm labor is stretched and/or during late-night calvings.  Furthermore, if colostrum powder sticks in the pail, bottle or esophageal feeder, those nutrients clearly aren’t making it into the calf.
  • Does the packaging maintain product quality and cleanliness?  Single-dose packaging is convenient because the package remains sealed until you need it, thus eliminating potential contamination.
  • Is the product proven through extensive research and field testing?

Beyond colostrum slumps

Even if maternal colostrum supply is adequate, consider what goes into getting it from the cow to the calf:

  • All colostrum milking and feeding equipment should be cleaned and sanitized before every use.
  • The dam should be milked as soon as possible post-calving, ideally within an hour.
  • Colostrum should be tested for quality; newborns should receive 1 gallon of colostrum that tests 22% or higher with a Brix refractometer.
  • Calves should be fed colostrum within the first hour after birth.
  • Your farm may heat-treat colostrum to limit pathogen growth.
  • Your farm may store colostrum (frozen or refrigerated) and reheat it to feed each newborn.
  • What happens if one or more of these steps is missed?  This further highlights the need for keeping a reliable colostrum replacer on hand.
Ann Hoskins

Ann Hoskins is a Vita Plus sales manager and calf program manager.