Ensure Adequate Colostrum Is Fed and Absorbed
Dairy Pipeline: February 1999
Tom L. Bailey
Dairy Production Medicine
Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Vet Medicine
All colostrum is not created equal and calves do not absorb colostrum at the same rate. An old subject, but one that continues to rise to the top in calf management. In all situations where calf health is a question, have your veterinarian check the level of antibody protection in baby calves (less than 10 days of age) to ensure adequate colostrum is being fed and absorbed. In a recent study by the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine, 53 calves were fed 2 gallons of colostrum in the first 24 hours of life. First we measured protective antibody levels (serum IgG levels) in the colostrum and only high quality colostrum was fed to the calves. When using only first milking, color (yellow), consistency (honey-like), and texture (thick), it was determined these factors could not determine high quality colostrum. Also calves absorbed the antibodies in high quality colostrum at different rates. Five calves (9%) had protective levels less than desirable or had a failure of passive transfer even though they also injested 2 gallons of colostrum within the first 24 hours. Jim Quigley has stated that when a cow gives in excess of 18 pounds at first milking, colostrum quality is decreased. As the pounds of colostrum given by the cow increases, the concentration of protection decreases. Stressors, such as dystocia, hot or cold environmental temperature, and calf handling can affect the absorption of colostrum by the calf's digestive system. The better absorption of colostrum will occur in the first 12 hours of life. Make sure at least one gallon of high quality colostrum is fed in the first 12 hours and an addition gallon is fed in the next 12 hours. Check colostrum quality after milking using a colostrometer with the milk at room temperature and create a frozen colostrum bank for feeding.