Colostrum: Boosting Lifetime Performance
Colostrum is perhaps the single most important factor that affects the health and vitality of neonatal calves.
Calves are born with a very limited immune system, vulnerable to avariety of pathogens present in their environment. In order to offset this, immunoglobulins (Ig's) must be obtained from colostrum. Good, quality colostrum contains at least 50g of IgG per litre to help calves fight bacteria, viruses and parasites, which are the common micro-organisms on-farm that cause scours and pneumonia. Antibody-rich colostrum helps to protect them against diseases and contributes to building up their immunity.
By feeding them colostrum, you're taking a preventive approach to calf health and will significantly reduce the risk of diseases. By maintaining tight control over diseases, you can eliminate a lot of medical treatments and save money. The math is simple, fewer diseases = fewer costs.
Immunity matters - to the health of calves, the long-term performance of your heard and ultimately your bottomline. With this in mind, having a colostrum protocol in place for neonatal calves is a necessity.
Here are few tips to help:
The earlier the better
As the calf's ability to absorb the antibodies present in colostrum rapidly reduces within the first 24 hours of life, it is important to feed a good amount of high quality colostrum before this window narrows. For maximum benefits, calves need to be given colostrum immediately after birth while the gut wall is open to macromolecular transport.
Three litres of colostrum are recommended for the first feeding, which should take place within two hours of birth.
Quality matters, but so does quantity
When it comes to the quantity of colostrum to be fed, the 3-2-2 feeding plan is recommended, which consists of giving the calf 3 quarts of colostrum at birth, followed by 2 quarts six hours later, then another 2 quarts twelve hours after birth. A 4-0-2 feeding is also possible on farms with limited resources.
Cleanliness is key
A calf is at its most vulnerable stage when being fed colostrum.This is why the bottles and nipples need to be thoroughly washed and sterilized between each feeding, and the calves' pens cleaned regularly. Needless to say the colostrum is required to be free of harmful bacteria, which is why some producers opt to pasteurize it.
The biggest misconception about colostrum is that it’s automatically the best food for the calf because it comes from the cow immediately after calving. In fact, we need to make sure there are enough antibodies in the colostrum that the calf will drink at its first feeding. Test the colostrum with a refractometer right after calving, and if it contains more than 23 degrees Brix of immunoglobulin G, feed it directly to the calf. However, if the colostrum doesn’t meet our standards, discard it and feed the calf a supplement made with powdered colostrum instead.