Colostrum: a unique health product with a crucial link to the dry period

What makes colostrum unique?

Good-quality colostrum contains antibodies in the form of immunoglobulins, abbreviated to IgGs. Thanks to their ‘life history’, older cows deliver better-quality colostrum. But the antibodies are not the only elements that make colostrum a unique product; colostrum also contains other ‘life-critical substances’: white blood cells, growth hormones, vitamins, minerals, protein and energy. All of these ingredients help keep the calf happy and growing fast, also on day two and three following birth. “If at all possible, therefore make sure you feed colostrum on day two and day three, before switching to artificial milk,” recommended Ger van der Wersch, young stock ­specialist at FrieslandCampina in The Netherlands. And if you have slightly older calves who are at risk of diarrhoea, colostrum can be a useful preventive measure, explained Ger. “200 cc of colostrum mixed into the milk powder during the first few days offers better protection at intestinal level.”

What influence does the dry period have on the colostrum quality?

A dry period is of crucial importance for colostrum quality. A cow must be dry for at least five to six weeks. The tissue of the udder must dry out; milk cells are eradicated and around three weeks before calving, the cow makes a cautious start on producing colostrum. The first milking delivers between four and eight litres of colostrum. That is ideal. Enough for the calf and guaranteed top quality.
It is no ­problem for a calf to consume plenty of colostrum, but make sure of the quality, explained Erwin Hunneman, young stock ­specialist at Agrifirm in The Netherlands. “With large quantities of colostrum, more than eight litres, there is a risk that the colostrum is diluted, with lower (Brix) quality. That can be a ­problem.” For the cow, it is an indicator that the dry period was not successful; that the cow was fed too much energy, and that can lead to the risk of ketosis. “Too much colostrum does not automatically mean that the cow will also start up too quickly, and as a result will suffer from ketosis. The ­problem is a result of the feed.”