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Colostrum Tidbits - Dr. Becca Woodford

What is colostrum?

Colostrum is the first milk. It should be sticky, yellow, and thick. It is a rich source of energy, antibodies, growth factors, colostral fat (special energy to help calves thermoregulate), antimicrobials, nutrients, and 200+ essential elements for neonates to build an immune system and survive life challenges.

Calves are born with a naive immune system because there is no transfer of antibodies across the placenta. Colostrum is essential for neonates, as it gives the calf immunity. The calf’s gut is permeable and able to absorb the IgG in colostrum, however it can also absorb environmental pathogens. Having a clean environment will decrease the bacterial load which calves are exposed to. Calves that do not ingest enough colostrum early, can place the entire calf crop at higher risk because they are more prone to infection and can trigger an outbreak of diarrhea. Early identification and supplementation of those calves that are at higher risk of having failure of passive transfer can prevent scour outbreaks and improve the general health and performance of the calf crop. Therefore a calf receiving colostrum is a timed event!

How much is needed?

  • 200-300 grams of IgG1 for passive transfer in 6 hours


What can affect colostrum quality and quantity?

  • Takes 6-8 weeks to make colostrum – consider vaccination timing, scours vaccine etc.

  • Sickness in the cow prior to calving- foot rot, pneumonia, etc

  • Heifer vs mature cow vs old cows- Heifers and older cows have less colostrum than mature cows

  • Body Condition score (ideal is 5/9 or 6/9)-Thinner cows don’t make much or any colostrum.


The best is to use colostrum directly from the dam, but if that is unavailable you have a choice.

Colostrum Supplement or Replacer?

  • Supplements are to supplement; pair with dam colostrum.

  • Replacer is when the dams colostrum is unavailable and needs fully replaced.

  • Purchase USDA approved colostrum.

  • Colostrum from another farm/ranch can be a major threat to the biosecurity of any beef or dairy herd. It may be contaminated with pathogens that cause scours or pneumonia, such as E. Coli, Rotavirus, Coronavirus, Johnes or Mycoplasma Bovis.

  • Natural untreated bovine colostrum is often varied in concentration of immune factors and could be contaminated too.

  • Buy colostrum products with at least 18% natural colostral fat.

    • Caution with products made from blood or whey with added vegetable fats, as they do not provide the same benefits, nor do low fat or defatted colostrum products.

  • We at Crazy Mountain recommend these products.

    • Calf's Choice Total Gold

    • Calf's Choice Total Hi-Cal

    • Colostrx


Who needs colostrum?

  • High value or high-risk calves with circumstances such as dystocia or cold temperature. Calves need extra, good quality colostrum fast, that’s high in immunoglobulins and natural colostral fat.


Colostrum is for scouring calves too!

Yes, there can be benefits from feeding smaller amounts of colostrum after day one, particularly in situations where diarrhea is a problem, because the immunoglobulins will provide local immunity in the intestines. Studies have shown that adding 5g to 10g of IgG to each feeding can help prevent and control certain types of infectious scours, particularly diarrhea caused by E. coli, rotavirus, and coronavirus. That amount of IgG can be provided by feeding 100mL to 200mL of first milking colostrum or 25g to 50g of a high-quality colostrum replacer. Where a herd is having a scour problem, one could try feeding the higher dose for about a week starting on day two or three of age. If that reduces the problem, then you can try moving to the lower dose. Colostrum also provides about twice the calories as milk or milk replacer and feeding similar amounts can also be very helpful when calves are raised in conditions of cold or heat stress. We recommend feeding 150 grams of colostrum to a scouring calf. This is 1/5th of the Calf's Choice Hical bag. We also recommend milking out a cow and feeding colostrum to a calf after any calving intervention or external stress factors.


Tips for Storing colostrum!

  • If the colostrum is going to be fed later in the day or within 24 hours, it can be refrigerated between 1 to 1.5°C (33 to 35°F).

  • If the colostrum is not going to be used before 24 hours, it can be frozen within the first hour of collection at -20 to -21°C (-5°F). This colostrum could be used safely for about 6 months, and some would argue that it can be used for up to a year.

  • It is important to remember that repeated freeze thaw cycles dramatically damage and affect the functional antibodies in the colostrum and therefore the life span of the frozen colostrum is reduced.

  • The warm temperature of fresh colostrum is a bacteria’s dream breeding ground, allowing their numbers to double every 20 minutes! Rapid cooling is the best way to slow down growth of potentially dangerous bacteria. The best process is to divide the collected colostrum into small amounts, 1-2 quart or 1-2 liters are convenient volumes for later feeding, and immediately place them into a refrigerator or ice bath. These small volumes will cool down rapidly and are also easy to re-warm when needed for feeding. Another practical solution is to have several frozen, clean water bottles on hand that can be dropped into the pail of warm colostrum to cool the center of the pail. Two bottles of frozen water per gallon of colostrum can achieve rapid cooling, which will dramatically slow down bacteria growth.

NEW: Lamb/Kid Colostrum

  • Contains 75 grams of IgG per bag.


Is it safe to feed Bovine Colostrum to lambs and kids- Yes!

The major killers of newborn small ruminants are starvation, hypothermia, scours, and pneumonia. Therefore, the main question is how well feeding cow colostrum prevents these problems.

Bovine colostrum contains the same nutrients and growth factors found in ewe and doe colostrum and therefore will prevent starvation if fed early and in amounts recommended to transfer immunity.

The most important nutrients that prevent hypothermia are colostral fat and lactose. On average bovine colostrum contains the same amount of lactose but is 2.5 to 3.5 times lower in fat than ewe and doe colostrum respectively. So more bovine colostrum should be fed to small ruminants born into conditions where the risk of hypothermia is high.

Bovine colostrum contains antibodies against most of the common diseases that infect newborn small ruminants. Therefore, when fed in adequate amounts bovine colostrum will prevent diseases like navel/joint ill, E. coli, Rotavirus, Mannheimia, Pasteurella, and Parainfluenza 3 virus.

However, bovine colostrum does not contain antibodies against two diseases that can be transmitted through colostrum from an infected dam to newborn small ruminants: ovine progressive pneumonia (OPP) in lambs and caprine arthritis encephalitis (CEA) in kids. Therefore, if those diseases are present in a herd and bovine colostrum is used, the kids will still be at risk for CEA and OPP.

Lambs and kids must receive at least 50 ml/kg of good colostrum as soon as possible after birth. In 24 hours, a newborn lamb/kid must receive the equivalent of 200 ml/kg body weight in colostrum or at least 30g of IgG. Thus, a 3 kg newborn should get ideally at least 600 ml of colostrum on its first day of life. This amount can be divided into two or three meals.


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