Control Colostrum Quality From the Cow to the Calf

Las Uvas Valley Dairy in Hatch, New Mexico. ( Sunshine Picture Project )

When it comes to feeding colostrum, timing is everything. That includes harvesting colostrum from the cow and getting it into the calf in a timely manner. These two factors play an important role in creating quality colostrum.

While the timing of feeding newborn calves is significant, timing of colostrum harvest is also critical.

“The longer we wait to harvest colostrum, the cow is going to start reabsorbing those immunoglobulins and it’s going to lower the quality of our colostrum,” says Kelly Reed, DVM, ruminant field technical specialist with Diamond V.

According to researchers, the number of antibodies in the colostrum begins to decrease with time. The highest levels of immunoglobulins are in the cow’s first milk. Leaking of milk after or before calving, however, will greatly decrease the amount of antibodies in the colostrum.

In addition to harvesting the colostrum in a timely fashion, pasteurization is also a good practice.

Using heat to help reduce the amount of bacteria present, pasteurization can help improve the overall quality of the product. Nevertheless, it should not be used as a “fix all” technique, according to Reed.

“Pasteurizing colostrum doesn’t sterilize colostrum,” Reed says. “It just reduces the bacterial load.” Therefore, it is critical that the first milking after calving is collected in a clean environment using sterilized equipment.

When harvesting and feeding colostrum, it is imperative to keep cleanliness on your mind. Inflations, buckets, bottles and nipples should all be kept clean along with the animal’s udder. Reed suggests developing a colostrum protocol for employees to use when handling colostrum.

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