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Ask the Vet

Friday, October 14, 2011

The Importance of Colostrum

Colostrum is the term used to describe the milk a cow or heifer first secretes after calving. Colostrum is especially important in the bovine species because the bovine placenta does not allow the mother's antibodies to pass directly to the calf in utero through the bloodstream, as it does in other species. Instead, the mother secretes antibodies into her first milk, colostrum. Once the calf is born, he/she has the ability to absorb those antibodies across the intestinal wall in the first 24 hours of life.

How do I know if a calf needs colostrum?

If the mother will not let the calf nurse or if the mother does not have any milk production yet. If the mother has some milk, it is best to milk her out and feed that amount to the calf, and supplement with dried colostrum if necessary to meet the daily requirements.

What colostrum products should be given?

The best source of colostrum for a calf is the mother's own milk.

If the mother's milk is not available, the next best option is fresh or frozen colostrum from another cow.

As a third option, dried products can also be used. Look for products that are made from bovine serum and contain 50 grams of IgG (the antibody component) per package, such as Lifeline, which can be purchased at Valley Vet Center.

How much colostrum should be fed?

A calf should drink 10-12% of its body weight in milk per day.

For example, an 80 lb calf should drink 8 lb of milk a day (approximately 1 gallon).

Divide the total amount into 3 feedings per day for a newborn calf.

Always mix dried colostrum according to package directions.

How soon does colostrum need to be fed?

Feed the calf within the first few hours of life, and again 4-6 hours later.

The calf's ability to absorb antibodies diminishes within the first 24 hours of life. Therefore, colostrum will no longer be of much benefit after the first 24 hours.

What is the difference between electrolytes and colostrum?

Electrolytes are a water-based product that provide sodium, chloride, and potassium with often small amounts of protein. These substances are not meant to replace regular milk feedings, but to be used as a supplement between feedings to keep the calf's electrolyte balance normal when diarrhea is present. Do not feed electrolytes at the same time as milk, as they may inhibit clot formation of the milk and not allow proper digestion.

oColostrum is a high-protein milk product that is only fed in the first 24 hours of life to provide antibodies to the calf.

We at Valley Vet Center hope you have a successful calving season! We have plenty of colostrum and electrolytes on hand for the upcoming season, so feel free to stop in or call any time. We will be happy to help you!



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