THE COLOSTRUM COUNSEL - The Importance of the Calf's First Meal

The future of the herd starts with today’s healthy calf. The key to a successful calf raising program starts with the first feeding.

Colostrum is the fi rst milk produced after a cow gives birth; it is a nutrient dense, immunoglobulin rich milk designed for the newborn calf. Delivering that milk with care is the key to ensuring that a calf’s immune system (immature at birth) starts to develop thus warding off infections that are common to young animals.

Total protein (a simple blood test) is a strong indicator of the colostrum program. Higher values indicate a calf received enough colostrum within a timely fashion to start building a strong immune system. Factors that will affect colostrum absorption are the cleanliness of: (a) the calf’s environment, (b) the feeding utensils (tube, bottle, nipple …) and (c) the cow before she was milked or the quality of water used to mix the colostrum replacer.

Research shows a clear pattern of improved growth in those calves with total protein greater than 5.5 mg/dL. This improved status remained long after active immunity had taken hold, to show a difference of 2.2 kg (4.8 lbs) by 10 weeks of age (Figure 1). Furthermore, calves with total protein over 5.5 mg/ dL were sick less often (Figure 2). It is clear that calves with blood levels over 6.5 mg/dL show the least incidences of disease. It is critical to note that 64% of the calves lost before weaning had total protein levels below 5.5 mg/dL and 79% below 6.5 mg/dL.

Taking care in delivering quality colostrum to the calf can go a long way in protecting them from disease and death. While 5.5 mg/dL is used as a pass or fail line, the data shown in Figure 1 & 2 demonstrates that above 6.5 mg/dL will make a significant difference to a calf’s health. Early health and nutrition are tied into growth. If a calf is using nutrients from feed to get well, they will not be able to maximize their growth and that may impact their output in fi rst lactation. Calves enter the world vulnerable to whatever the environment presents to them, influencing that environment to best meet their needs is setting them up for success.

Steps to a successful colostrum program:

1. Cleanliness – animals, environment and feeding utensils.

2. Delivery time – within 6 hours of birth for the first meal, another meal before 24 hours.

3. Quality of the colostrum – work with your vet and test your calves for total protein. That will help ensure that the right program is in place for success.

Kathleen  Shore
Kathleen Shore
Nutrition and QA Manager, Grober Nutrition

the colostrum experts

© 2013 - The Saskatoon Colostrum Company