What is Colostrum?
Colostrum is the first milk produced by mammals immediately following the delivery of a newborn. Many call colostrum “liquid gold” due to its color and the extremely valuable health benefits it provides. It contains much higher bioactive compound levels than mature milk, and gives the newborn the best start for a healthy life.
Irreplaceable Health Benefits
There are many things a newborn calf needs that only colostrum can provide. Let’s take a look at the different systems that receive a “jumpstart” from ingesting colostrum.
Colostrum contains a hefty dose of the healthy gut microbes calves need to kickstart their digestive tract. Newborns have very immature digestive systems with very little bioactivity, so their gut needs help getting ready for life outside the womb. Colostrum will wake up the calf’s entire digestive tract from beginning to end. It also has a mild laxative effect that will stimulate their first stool (meconium) which clears excess bilirubin (red blood cell waste) from their system.
Newborn calves have just left the relatively sterile womb and are at high risk for infection. They don’t receive any immunity from the mother’s placenta, so it has to come from ingestion (or in fringe cases, injection). Because their immature digestive tract is extremely permeable right after birth, it will quickly absorb anything that enters their system. So it is critical to build their immunity as quickly as possible. Colostrum contains many antibodies, antioxidants, immune cells, and other messengers they need to give their immune system a healthy start. Unfortunately, calves that do not receive colostrum immediately following birth have much higher mortality rates.
Colostrum is highly saturated with the nutrition calves need to encourage healthy growth:
- Macro and micro-nutrients
- Other growth factors to stimulate vascular health, muscle growth, brain development, etc.
These nutrient levels are at their highest levels right after birth and then start to lower as colostrum becomes mature milk.
Colostrum Timeline: The Critical First Hour
As mentioned earlier, a newborn calf’s digestive system is very permeable and can easily absorb immunoglobulins (Ig). That ability to absorb steadily decreases in the hours after they are born. After about 24 hours, their digestive tract no longer allows Ig to pass directly into their bloodstream. So the first hour after birth is critical. Amanda Fordyce, Ph.D technical calf consultant for Milk Products, advises helping calves ingest colostrum the moment they are breathing and sitting upright. The sooner the better!
According to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL) calves need about 2 quarts of colostrum
immediately after birth (ideally within 30 minutes). They should continue nursing to ensure they ingest a couple more quarts over the next hours. Dr. Fordyce states that calves should ingest 3-4 quarts or about 10% of their body weight in the first 2 hours.
Your colostrum management plan will vary depending upon the size, scope, and makeup of your operation.
First, decide whether you plan on helping newborns nurse directly. or will use milking, storing, and bottle feeding techniques. Remember that calving does not always go according to plan, so have vets and milking equipment ready in case your dams or calves need attention, or if you need to harvest and bottle feed.
- Be sure any equipment you plan to use, is properly sterilized, stored, and accessible so it is ready when you need it.
- If you have previously stored colostrum, practice your safe warming methods so you know how long it will take you to return refrigerated/frozen colostrum to body temperatures before feeding.
- Have your udder and teat cleaning supplies ready
- For colostrum storing and bottle feeding, have your preferred quality measurement tools clean and ready. Click here to learn more from Iowa State University about the most helpful quality measurement tools.
According to Iowa State University the following practices will help keep colostrum clean and healthy:
“The cow’s teats should be thoroughly cleaned using a disinfecting pre-dip solution like the one used on the lactating cows. The disinfecting solution must have a contact time of at least 30 seconds to effectively kill bacteria; after this time, the solution is wiped off with a dry, clean towel or rag.”
And don’t forget:
“All milking equipment should be cleaned and sanitized immediately after every milking
to avoid any cross-contamination to the next cow to be milked.”
Properly storing colostrum for future use will prevent harmful pathogen growth. Iowa State University recommends using freezer rated zip-top bags that can be sealed and stored flat in a freezer. They advise that “colostrum may be refrigerated for no more than 24 hour because bacteria can still grow slowly at refrigerated temperatures.”
Redmond Minerals: Cattle Health Nutrition
Here at Redmond, we know that healthy dams produce and pass on healthy colostrum. So choosing a well rounded mineral program is one of the easiest and most beneficial decisions you can make for your entire herd. Essential macro and micro minerals will help your cattle’s:
- Digestive health
- Body condition scores
- Milk production
- Reproductive health
- Calving health (for dam and calf)
- Immunity, and more!