Improving colostrum management

Well, a lot of research has been done on the subject and has been implemented in practice. And there are several criteria that have to be looked upon in order to have good colostrum management. We see that the scientific evidence on that subject has been established decades ago. But nevertheless, mistakes are made every day, and that is the reason we try to explain over and over and over again to farmers what good colostrum management should be.

Basically there are four factors to look upon.

The first one is colostrum quality. You should start with colostrum that is of sufficient quality. That basically means at least 50 grams of IgG per litre. And data has demonstrated that in beef breeds in general, that is not a problem. But in dairy breeds you can have concentrations below the 50 grams of IgG, and using such a colostrum makes it rather difficult to obtain a sufficient amount of IgG because that brings me to the 2nd point.

You have the quality, there’s also the quantity and it has been demonstrated that 100 grams of IgG given to a calf is an absolute minimum. So, it’s better to give 200 grams. In our case, with the Belgian Blue Breed, which is a little more susceptible to infectious disease, we go up to 300 grams in order to have sufficient amounts of IgG in these calves. But, if you start with a 50 gram IgG per litre quality of colostrum that means that you basically have to give four litres.

The third important aspect is the timing of giving this colostrum. It had been said years ago that if you give colostrum within the first day of life that that is a good thing, but recent data demonstrates that the efficiency of absorption goes down over time, as hours progress. And the consensus today is that you should give that 200 grams of IgG within the first 6 hours of life. So basically, you have to have a good quality colostrum, at least 50 grams (per litre). Try to give 200 grams in total within the first 6 hours of life.

What we advise farmers to make no mistake and take all these factors into account and to immediately, after birth, or within the first hours after birth, feed the calves with the colostrum. We try to get the 200 grams in the calf within these first hours, within this first feeding. If the calf doesn’t drink well enough, the advice that is given is to tube feed the calf using an oesophageal tube in order to immediately get the 200 grams in that first feeding. You can try several feedings, but then you lose time again and in order to be very efficient on the labour, we say do it all in one.

Doing so, using an oesophageal tube has certain risks because if a calf drinks his colostrum it will enter in the abomasum. There it is acidified and once it is acidified there is hardly no germ multiplication. If you tube feed a calf, the colostrum is put into the rumen. And the rumen of a newborn calf is a no acid environment. So, that basically means that the colostrum is stored there at body temperature which is 39 degrees. And if the colostrum is contaminated which is always possible, the cow can either shed a germ via the milk or via the udder in the colostrum or there can be some environmental contamination-- If a germ is present in that colostrum, that germ will multiply within the rumen exponentially, and there are two reasons there. One risk is that you may infect your calf and that can provoke disease. The second negative aspect of that is that germs interfere with the uptake of the immunoglobulins from the colostrum. So that is the reason why we advise farmers when they use the tube feeds to work in a very, very hygienic way.

That basically means clean the tube after every feeding, disinfect the tube after every feeding. Milk the colostrum as clean as possible. All the material that is used to milk the colostrum, store the colostrum, should be very, very hygienically stored and this is quite an important issue.

But, if farmers succeed in giving good quality colostrum, sufficient amounts in order to reach the 200 grams within the first 6 hours of life, if they have hygienic colostrum, we see that that procedure is the best because you have very little labour. And if we test the calves afterwards for transfer of passive immunity we see that all these calves succeed in that test and have sufficient protection.

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