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

You won’t get any better as a health product for the young calf: colostrum. But what makes colostrum so unique? And what is the link to the dry period? Young livestock ­specialists Ger and Erwin share their knowledge.

What makes colostrum unique?

Good colostrum contains antibodies, immune globulins or IgG. Thanks to their ‘life experience’, older cows have better quality colostrum. But it’s not just antibodies that make colostrum a unique product, there are more ‘life substances’ in colostrum: white blood cells, growth hormones, vitamins, minerals, protein and energy.

All ingredients that -even on day two and three after birth- help the calf stay healthy and grow fast. ‘So feed colostrum on day two and, if possible, on day three as well before switching to the milk replacer,’ advises young animal ­specialist Ger van Wersch. And if some older calves are at risk of diarrhoea, colostrum also helps, Ger points out. ‘Mixing 200cc of colostrum with the milk powder for a few days offers protection at gut level.’

Fact: With more than 8 litres of colostrum, there is a risk of diluted colostrum and lower quality.

The dry period is crucial for the colostrum quality. A cow needs to be dry for at least five to six weeks. The udder tissue has to dry out, milk cells are cleared and about three weeks before calving, the cow very carefully starts producing colostrum again. That first milking produces about four to eight litres of colostrum. This is optimal: enough for the calf and of the best quality. A lot of colostrum is no ­problem for a calf, but pay attention to the quality, says young animal ­specialist Erwin Hunneman. ‘With a lot of colostrum, more than 8 litres, you have a risk that the colostrum is diluted and the quality (Brix) is lower, then it does become a ­problem.’ For the cow, it is a sign that the dry period has not been good, that too much energy has been provided and that puts it at risk of ketosis. ‘Too much colostrum does not directly mean that the cow is also starting up too fast and therefore getting ketosis. The ­problem lies with the ration.’

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