You've reached the Virginia Cooperative Extension Newsletter Archive. These files cover more than ten years of newsletters posted on our old website (through April/May 2009), and are provided for historical purposes only. As such, they may contain out-of-date references and broken links.

To see our latest newsletters and current information, visit our website at

Newsletter Archive index:

Virginia Cooperative Extension - Knowledge for the CommonWealth

How Clean is Your Colostrum?

Dairy Pipeline: May 2007

Bob James
Extension Dairy Scientist, Dairy Nutrition
(540) 231-4770;

Several surveys and clinical studies have shown that approximately 30% of all calves fail to absorb adequate amounts of antibodies from colostrum even when adequate quantities of colostrum are fed early in life. These calves face an increased risk of disease during the first month of life until their immune system begins producing antibodies.

Research from several studies sheds some light on why calves fail to absorb colostrum antibodies. A study conducted at Va. Tech by Bob James and Carl Polan demonstrated that the presence of high levels of bacteria in the intestine were associated with low antibody absorption. In this study, early colonization was the result of administering a “probiotic” bacterial inoculum prior to or shortly after colostrum feeding. The higher the bacterial counts in the intestine, the less antibody absorption.

More recently Dr. Sandra Godden from the University of Minnesota demonstrated that colostrum can become a source of large numbers of bacteria if it is not cooled rapidly after milking or if it’s administered with an improperly cleaned esophageal feeder. She found that bacterial growth in colostrum was rapid and exceeded 100,000 bacteria/ml within a short time after milking if unrefrigerated. In a Minnesota field study, standard plate counts of colostrum fed to calves exceeded 162,000,000 cfu/ ml. These studies lead us to the following conclusions:

►Treat colostrum as you would saleable milk. Colostrum should be fed within an hour or two of harvest or refrigerated immediately. If refrigerated, feed it within 24 hours to limit bacterial growth. Make sure that refrigeration temperature is less than 40oF, but above freezing. Keep a refrigerator near the milk room specifically for storage of colostrum.

►If a calf is born between milking times and refrigerated or frozen colostrum is not available, consider using one of the colostrum replacer products that contain at least 100 g of antibody/dose.

►Do not feed “probiotics” within the first 12 hours of life and preferably at least 6 hours after the last colostrum feeding.

►Do not use colostrum supplement or replacer products that also contain probiotics. These products will commonly show the addition of bacteria such as lactobacilli or bifidobacteria.

Follow the standard “3 Q” recommendations for colostrum feeding – quantity, quality and quickly.
1. Feed at least 2 quarts followed by another 2 quarts within 12 hours of birth.
2. Test colostrum with a colostrometer or suitable test and use only colostrum containing more than 50mg/ml of IgG.
3. Provide the first feeding as soon as possible after birth (< 3 hours) and the second feeding by no later than 12 hours of age.

Visit Virginia Cooperative Extension