A newborn calf has no protective antibodies (otherwise known as Immunoglobulins or ‘IG’s’) to fight disease or any health challenges.
These IG’s can only be absorbed via colostrum and will protect the calf against disease for the first 8 weeks of life, until its own immune system develops.
Therefore colostrum is very important, otherwise known as ‘White Gold’ in the calf rearing world!
Everyone has a different colostrum protocol on their farm, and if it works, stick to it, but since I have been doing some calf research, I have come across a few facts which may make you think about how you feed colostrum to your calves…
TIMING: Feed ASAP – the longer the calf goes without colostrum, the less is absorbed. At 6hrs, only 66% is absorbed, and 12hrs, only 47% is absorbed.
QUALITY: Milk the cow ASAP post calving to reap the benefits. The adjacent graph shows the effect of delayed colostrum quality…remember you are aiming to feed 200 IG’s to the calf in its first feed.
FEEDING: Feed the calf yourself – research shows that up to 50% of calves left alone to suckle the dam, will not absorb adequate IG’s to provide protection and immunity.
STORAGE: Don’t leave colostrum to sit at room temperature, because for every 20 mins colostrum is stored at room temperature, the bacteria population doubles. Either refrigerate or freeze within an hour of collection.
Figure 1: The effect of delayed colostrum collection on colostrum quality (IG’s) (Moore et al., 2005)