Dr. Geert Hoflack discusses best practices in colostrum management: quality, quantity, cleanliness and the clock!
Good colostrum management is essential in order to ensure that newborn calves receive all the passive immunity they can from their dams. But what are the best practices in colostrum management? Dr. Geert Hoflack explains that there are four factors which absolutely must be present: high quality, a large enough quantity, a clean supply and a timely supply.
The quality of colostrum needs to be very high. According to Dr. Hoflack, this means that there should be at least 50 grams of Immunoglobulins (IgG) per litre, which can be difficult to attain with dairy breeds, but is crucially important. With this high quality colostrum (50 grams IgG per litre or higher), the quantity would need to be four litres, in order to achieve the recommended 200 grams of IgG.
In addition to the right quality and quantity, colostrum also needs to be administered very shortly after birth. While in the past it was thought that feeding the calf the colostrum within the first day of life was good enough, recent data has shown that efficiency of absorption goes down over time. Thus, Dr. Hoflack believes that the 200 grams of IgG needs to be given to the calf no later than six hours after birth, though he advises farmers to try to get the full amount to the calf within the first hours of life, in the first feeding, if possible. If the calf doesn't drink well enough, an oesophageal tube is recommended. If a tube is used, the colostrum would then go directly to the rumen. As the rumen is a no acid environment, the risk of infection exists. Additionally, a germ, if present, could interfere with the uptake of the IgG from the colostrum, which is why the fourth essential aspect of good colostrum management is cleanliness.
Dr. Hoflack stresses that in every aspect of colostrum collection and feeding, attention must be paid to hygiene. If tubes are used, they need to be cleaned and disinfected after every feeding. And, the colostrum itself needs to be milked and stored as hygienically as possible as well. With proper hygiene, risks are abated.
If farmers succeed in managing all four critical pieces of the colostrum management puzzle, calves will get the full benefits of protection from diseases that colostrum provides until their own immune systems kick into high gear.