Like most things in life, we just do what we have always done without question and many times without knowing why we do it. We just have grown up with our parents doing it one way and now we do it the same way as well. This is also the case with life on the dairy. Animals give birth and we strive to give them the best life possible but we don’t always know why things are important. We know that we have to do certain steps and know that if they aren’t done, the animals suffer. For instance, we all know, calves are particularly vulnerable to health issues before weaning and subject to high rates of morbidity and mortality, especially when there is poor colostrum intake. This could mean low-quality colostrum, inadequate consumption of colostrum, or substandard colostrum management, and if you combine that with poor hygiene, can increase chances for disease, all of these can lead to elevated mortality rates. Let’s review the choices we have to make in regards to feeding the calves in the first days of life on the farm:

newborn calf

Choices to Make, the Upsides/Downsides of:

  • Feeding little to no colostrum– While calves are born with an innate instinct to suckle, there are many disadvantages to letting them only nurse on their dam. For starters, some dams can be inattentive and will not let their calf nurse. These calves can suffer dehydration and will find the energy to live by using up their energy stores. Also, these calves, are more likely to die within the first three weeks of life, because they will not have the maximum transfer of antibodies and will be unable to fight off diseases. There is no way to measure or know the quality or quantity of colostrum they are receiving. 
  • Feeding a colostrum replacer- Colostrum replacers have their place on the dairy, especially when there is no colostrum readily available for the calf. These are made from dried bovine colostrum and have fat, proteins, vitamins, and minerals added to them. They contain 100-150g of IgG per dose, however, this can vary from product to product and will require you to do some extra research to determine which is best for your calves’ needs. There is no bacterial contamination in the product, however, if your feeding tools are not cleaned properly, this will be where the bacteria will come into play. They are shelf-stable and have a long shelf life and mix with water, which makes them convenient to use. These products are better than feeding a newborn calf low-quality colostrum but not as good as high-quality colostrum.
  • Feeding RAW, unpasteurized colostrum- Raw, unpasteurized colostrum is better than just letting a calf nurse its dam. It is also better than just feeding a colostrum replacer because you can measure the quality of colostrum that you feed at each feeding. Colostrum is beneficial because it promotes calf gut health, the antibodies found in it will help the calf fight off infections and will promote immunity. However, colostrum can contain pathogenic bacteria that are harmful to a newborn calf. Research has also shown, that there is less IgG absorption when compared to pasteurized colostrum. Feeding colostrum in the correct quantities and qualities reduces morbidity and mortality rates in calves. Raw, unpasteurized colostrum can be stored in a refrigerator for up to 24 hours and stored in a freezer for up to one year.
  • Feeding pasteurized colostrum- Choosing to feed your calves, pasteurized colostrum offers them the best start in life. During the pasteurization process, many (not all) of the harmful bacterial pathogens are killed. Like feeding raw, unpasteurized colostrum, you can measure the quality and ensure that the correct quantity is fed to each calf. Calves will be able to fight off infections because of the improved IgG absorption. They will be less likely to get scours. Feeding pasteurized colostrum has been shown to improve weight gain, better health, and increased future productivity. However, feeding pasteurized colostrum does require that the employees follow certain protocols and that the equipment is working properly and staying maintained.
5 step to colostrum management by Golden Calf Company Calf Hero

What is Colostrum Management:

A colostrum management program is vital to EVERY dairy, whether it be big or small. This program is designed to ensure that calves born receive the best start in life. Colostrum is collected from each dam and then tested for quality. Avoiding delays in the collection (collect colostrum within the first 12 hours of birth), the IgG concentrations decrease over time. When you are testing each batch of collected colostrum, you can properly label the quality and feed each calf according to its needs and age. Also, you can visually monitor each collection for brownish, or bloody colostrum and discard it. 

Prevent Calf Sickness and Protect Future Profits: The 5-Step checklist for better calf health by Golden Calf Company

Another important feature of a good colostrum management program is hygiene. Having proper hygiene protocols in place, mean that you clean and disinfect the udders and teats before collecting the colostrum. That the collection bucket and other tools used are properly cleaned, sanitized, and stored between each collection. The feeding tools are also cleaned, sanitized, and properly stored. You should use either disposable feeding tools or stainless steel tools that you can properly sanitize between feedings. 

A successful program starts with feeding each calf 4L of high-quality colostrum in the first 30 minutes of life. Then feeding another 2L of the same high-quality colostrum six hours after the first feeding. Ideally, you want to feed colostrum for the first 3 days of life. You will need to feed the colostrum at the same temperature at each feeding and make sure that the temperature is 102°F. If the colostrum is any hotter, then a calf may refuse to drink it or it may burn their esophagus. Alternately, if the colostrum is too cold, then the calf has to use its stored energy to bring up the temperature of the colostrum instead of using that energy to grow.

Collected colostrum also needs to be properly stored. If the colostrum is not used immediately, then it should be either refrigerated or frozen for use at a later feeding. If you are freezing your colostrum stores, do not freeze, thaw out, and then refreeze, that will harm the colostrum. Refrigerated colostrum should not be stored longer than one week if it has been pasteurized and only 24 hours if it has not been pasteurized. Frozen colostrum will need to be thawed and warmed to the proper feeding temperature. To do this, you will need to thaw the colostrum in a water bath. Never use a microwave, as this method will damage the colostrum. It creates hot spots within the colostrum.

The last feature of a successful colostrum management program is the testing and monitoring of the blood serum protein levels of each calf to ensure that passive transfer has been successful.

Why is Colostrum Management so important:

Colostrum management is the single most important factor when it comes to calf health. If you don’t have certain protocols in place, it is detrimental to the survival of a newborn calf. To have a successful colostrum management program, you have to consistently feed each calf born, high-quality colostrum in the correct quantities in a specific amount of time. You need to routinely need to monitor and review your protocols to identify any weaknesses. You need to test the blood serum levels for each calf to determine the level of immunity.

Right tools to prevent calves dying at birth

Buying a Colostrum Management System:

Consider these important questions when choosing a system:

  • What does a pasteurizer do and why do I need it? Using a pasteurizer like the Calf Hero™ pasteurizer, reduces or eliminates the bacteria load on newborn calves while maximizing the IgG response. If you are treating/losing young calves to bacterial diseases, you need a pasteurizer. 
  • How does it make me money? It reduces the morbidity/mortality of calves and allows maximum passive immunity response. Quality colostrum on time will produce better more productive cows over their lifetime.
  • What size system will best suit my dairy? This is based on the size and needs of your dairy. Working with a calf care consultant will help you to determine your dairy’s needs.
  • How many calves are born per day? Typical day versus heavy calving times. If you are having multiple calves per day will help you to decide the capacity of a unit. If you are typically only having 1 or 2 calves per day, you may only need a two-meal pasteurizer. If you are having more than that on a regular day, you will need to go to a larger unit.
  • Do all the components of the system come together or can I purchase the items separately (customize to my dairy’s needs and uses)? The components of a system can be purchased separately, however, to ensure that your colostrum management program is complete, you will want to have the complete system.
  • Do all the parts work together? Yes, all the components of a system are designed to work together.

As you can see, having a colostrum management program and using a system to pasteurize your colostrum is the ideal way to go, when it comes to your dairy farm and its future. Proper colostrum management not only gives every calf born the best start in life but also, helps to protect the future profitability of your dairy with fewer vet costs for sick and dying calves, and maintains the health of the upcoming herd. So if you are ready to take the next step, call and speak to one of our knowledgeable calf care consultants to get your dairy on the right path.

Prevent Calf Sickness and Protect Future Profits: The 5-Step checklist for better calf health by Golden Calf Company