Calf nutrition

What is good colostrum? And when should it be fed?

01-09-2020

The quality of the colostrum cannot be seen with the naked eye, says our young stock specialist Ger van Wersch. "The color or thickness does not say anything about the quality, you have to measure that!”

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What is good colostrum?

The optimum is initial colostrum production of four to eight litres.

The quality of the colostrum cannot be assessed with the naked eye, explained Ger. “The colour or thickness says nothing about the quality. It has to be measured!” In the past, dairy farmers used a dip gauge, but the refractometer or BRIX meter is more accurate. “The BRIX value of the colostrum must be at least 23,” continued Ger. “Preferably 25. That equates to between 70 and 85 grams of IgG, immunoglobins, per litre of milk. During its first feed, a calf needs 250 IgG for every 40 kg of body weight,” he calculated. That means that a calf needs to ingest at least 3 to 3.5 litres, on condition that the colostrum itself is of very good quality. If the colostrum quality is lower, the calf must drink more volume. “And that makes life far more difficult.” If the quality of the colostrum is below par, Ger recommends speaking to the cattle feed consultant. “Optimising the feed during the dry period has a massive influence on the quality of the colostrum.”. Johan explained that it works the other way around, too. “If you have good-quality colostrum, then your dry period management is good, too.”

When should the calf be fed colostrum?

A calf needs colostrum as quickly as possible following birth. “Up to one hour following birth, the calf drinks more easily, too. If you wait longer, the urge to drink declines,” is the experience of Erwin, who thoroughly understands that it is no fun to have to milk a cow in the middle of the night, and then feed the colostrum to the calf. “It is easy for us to tell you what you to, but it really is best for the calf.” Ger explained that between five and six hours after birth, the calf’s ability to suckle has declined considerably. “That makes feeding the colostrum far more difficult.” One possible solution is to use a feeding tube. The first feed should amount to 10% of the body weight which – depending on quality – means around four litres. “Just six hours following birth, the absorbance of IgG through the intestinal wall has also reduced by 50%,” added Ger. In the first 24 hours, the calf must have drunk at least six litres of colostrum. After that time the intestinal wall closes off quickly, and no more antibodies can pass through it.

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