Studies have proven that good colostrum at birth can affect the immunity of a calf for the rest of its life. Failure of passive transfer is the condition caused by not absorbing good quality colostrum. Since so much is riding on giving the proper product in such a short window, let’s make sure all the questions are answered to help eliminate a “wreck” later.
The word “colostrum” has been used for many different products, from just a milk replacer to a product with different proteins. GOOD COLOSTRUM must contain quality antibodies (which is also called IgG) and be given to the calf as soon as possible after birth in order to be effective at helping the calf fight diseases. The cow naturally produces milk with higher IgG levels after birth for the calf. The colostrum from the cow is usually very thick (almost 22% solids versus 12 % in whole milk) and sometimes hard to milk by hand. The total amount of colostrum a calf needs is 5 – 6% of its body weight, so an 80 lb calf would need 4 lbs of colostrum.
The best source for great colostrum for the calf is from its mother, if she is healthy and in good condition. Cows will start to produce colostrum about 5 weeks before calving. The cow’s natural antibodies are transferred to the milk from the bloodstream. Cows do not make much colostrum (about ½ gallon) but that is more than enough for the newborn calf to absorb. The calf’s gut will start to close to the absorption of these antibiotics quickly after birth, that is why it is so important to get the quality IgG into the calf’s belly right away. Typically they need the colostrum between 4 & 6 hours after birth.
The best way to insure you are getting colostrum into a newborn calf is to help the mother cow and baby calf stay connected and create a bond. In extreme cold temperatures, the calf may need to be briefly brought inside to be warmed up (98 degrees is ideal for absorption of the gut), but then you should get the calf back to the mother and nursing within the 4-6 hour window. The calf needs to learn to suck, and giving it commercial products may “fill him up” to where he isn’t hungry. Sometimes milking the cow to give the baby a little warm colostrum may be necessary, but you never want to give excess or the calf may not learn to nurse adequately.
The amount of antibodies in cattle can decrease if they are not in good condition themselves. The third trimester before birth (last 3 months), and lactation are times when the cow’s energy and protein requirements are higher so this is a time that extra protein and energy must be supplemented with feedings. To ensure good colostrum, you must keep your cattle in good condition, with their blood protein equal to or greater than 7 gm/dL. (A veterinarian can test this for you at any time).
If for some reason, the cow isn’t available to give colostrum or the cow has poor quality of colostrum, an alternative source should be considered to make sure every calf has quality antibodies. The list above talks about poor choices as a True Colostrum alternative. The following is a better way to have colostrum available for those calves that can’t nurse on the mother cow.
Cheyenne River Animal Hospital
Cheyenne River Animal Hospital PO Box 536 / 202 10th Avenue Edgemont, SD 57735 US
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