Tips for colostrum handling

Best practices for colostrum  delivery and handling

How to manage colostrum delivery and handling on dairy farms5 points of attention

  1. Timing; 4L within the 1st hour
  2. Quantity: 6L on day 1
  3. Colostrum quality
  4. Proper colostrum hygiene
  5. Pasteurize colostrum


Research continues to demonstrate the profound impact that early life nutrition has on the health and lifetime performance of dairy cows. Most mortalities and health events in calves occur during the first two weeks of life, prior to the development of their own, active immunity. It has long been understood that quality colostrum intake just after birth is not only essential to protect calf health, but that it is perhaps the single most important factor that affects the health and vitality of neonatal calves.

IgG and essential Nutrients

The impact of early life nutrition on dairy cowsAt birth the calf’s immune system is basically naïve to the variety of pathogens present in its environment. The Immunoglobulin G (IgG) that is transferred via colostrum protects young calves from sickness and disease as they grow, and while they develop their own antibodies. Making sure newborn calves achieve the right IgG concentration in their blood is essential for them to have adequate immunological protection and resistance to disease for the first few weeks of life, as their own immune systems gear up and as they develop their own antibodies. It is important for neonatal calves to attain minimally 10 - 12 mg/mL of serum IgG for transfer of passive immunity to be successful.
While the transfer of IgG’s is vitally important, colostrum is also rich in other essential nutrients that the calf needs in its first few hours of life for growth, maintenance and health. Antibody and other bioactive components transferred via colostrum can activate and regulate the innate responses present in calves to fight potential infection and support healthy gut development.

Bacterial counts

While good colostrum management is essential to the lifetime growth and productivity of dairy cows, and is a key factor in LifeStart success, fresh colostrum’s protective role can sometimes mask its potential as an entry point for pathogens. Bacterial counts in fresh colostrum can indeed run high.
Refrigeration alone does not completely solve the problem. Significant bacterial growth occurs even when fresh colostrum is stored for less than 24 hours. These pathogens increase the risk of disease at the moment of greatest vulnerability for the calf. What’s more, the functioning of the immune system itself can be affected. High coliform counts in colostrum have been associated with decreased absorption of protective colostral immunoglobulin. Pathogens present in fresh colostrum can cause early morbidity or mortality through enteritis, septicemia, and joint or ear infections. They can equally contribute to chronic subclinical infections such as Johne’s disease that are not clinically manifested until later in life. So, while colostrum is the ultimate form of protection for neonatal calves, colostrum too, needs to be protected!