Early ingestion of good quality colostrum is essential to both the early health and survival and also the long term productivity of newborn calves.

In short, the benefits of proper colostrum feeding are immediate and long lasting. There are also different and distinct benefits from feeding colostrum on day 1, and after day 1 of a calf’s life.

Why is colostrum important to calves?

  • Colostrum contains high levels of antibodies that calves need to prevent diseases caused by organisms present on most dairy farms. Calves are born with few antibodies of their own and an immature immune system that is not capable of producing antibodies for some weeks. Colostrum provides the needed disease-fighting antibodies.
  • Colostrum is a nutrient-rich first meal for the calf. Colostrum is high in protein, energy (fat) and vitamins.

When should colostrum be fed?

Feed colostrum as soon as possible after birth, ideally within one hour. The calf is capable of absorbing the antibodies in the colostrum for only the first 24 hours after birth. With each passing hour after birth, the calf's ability to absorb the antibodies decreases. When calves are unable to drink all the colostrum, use an esophageal tube feeder. A secod meal of colostrum is not necessary for calves that suckle 2 liter at the first meal. 


What can be done to feed higher quality colostrum?

·         Observe prefresh dams closely enough the week before calving to know whether or not they are leaking milk. Dams that leak an observable quantity in the days before calving are very unlikely to have high quality colostrum. Feed stored colostrum from another dam or colostrum feeder

·         Organize labours and facilities to milk fresh cows as soon after calving as possible consistent with the health of the dam. A workable goal is to milk at least eighty percent of fresh dams less than four hours after calving. Sooner means higher antibody concentrations.

·         Sort colostrum as it is harvested and feed the highest quality to the calves you intend to raise for herd replacement. Feed colostrum that was collected closest to when the dam calved. In general, second and later lactation dams may have high quality colostrum than heifers.

·         When excess high quality colostrum is available, chill it rapidly and freeze it for later use. When a dam claves with too little colostrum or unusable colostrum, this banked colostrum can be carefully thawed and fed with little loss of antibodies

·         Do what you can to limit stress levels among pre-fresh dams. High stress levels may cause low quality colostrum. For example, stress may take the forms too little resting space, not enough space to eat or drink, poor quality air and even too frequent addition of cows into pre-fresh group population.