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Good colostrum management is key to giving calves the best start

Colostrum is an essential source of nutrients and antibodies for new-born calves, protecting them against pathogens such as rotavirus and coronavirus.

When calves are born, their immune system is not fully functional, and they are dependent on antibodies from their mother during this period of vulnerability. As the antibodies cannot come through the placenta, they must come from high quality colostrum, containing at least 50 mg/ml of immunoglobulins (IgG).

Aim to give calves a minimum of four litres (or 10% of birth weight) of colostrum within four hours of birth and a further two litres within twelve hours of birth. The timing of this first feed is vital as antibody absorption from colostrum declines rapidly from over 40% at birth to less than 5% within the first 20 hours.

Colostrum is important for a good start

Disease? Not On My Farm! Ambassador James Robinson explains how colostrum management is essential for good calf health in his organic dairy herd.

Talk to your vet for more advice on preventing disease by developing a colostrum management strategy.

Closely monitoring colostrum intake is a key part of the disease prevention strategy developed with our vet. We ensure our calves receive enough colostrum within the first two hours of life to make sure they have the antibodies they need.

We choose to feed calves mostly from the cow but do use some frozen colostrum. All our calves, bulls and heifers, receive colostrum, protecting the whole herd from disease.

We also weigh the calves every two weeks to monitor their growth rates and help spot potential illness.

Tips for good colostrum management

  • Give a first feed of four litres, or 10% birth weight, within four hours of birth and a further two litres within the first twelve hours
  • Raw colostrum from different cows should not be pooled as this will lower the overall quality and increase the risk of Johne’s disease transmission
  • Measure colostrum quality using a colostrometer or refractometer. You cannot tell the quality just by looking at it. Good quality colostrum contains at least 50 mg/ml of IgG
  • Wash your hands and wear gloves when collecting, storing or giving colostrum to avoid contamination
  • Remember the five Qs: quality, quantity, quickly, quantify and squeaky clean