Colostrum: of life-saving importance for every calf

A newborn calf is vulnerable. It has no natural antibodies and during the first few weeks, the calf’s immune system is still insufficiently developed to fight off infection in the intestine (diarrhea) or lungs (pneumonia). For that reason, calves must be fed colostrum as quickly as possible following birth.

What makes colostrum unique?
Colostrum contains high concentrations of antibodies in the form of immunoglobulins, abbreviated to IgG that protect the calf. 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


At least three to four litres of good quality colostrum for your calf

Make sure that your calf receives at least:

  • Three to four litres of good-quality colostrum within one hour following birth (rule of thumb for the quantity: ten per cent of the calf’s birth weight).
  • A further two litres within eight hours and two more within 24 hours.

In other words, a total of between seven and eight litres in the first 24 hours, in which only colostrum is supplied from the first milking. In this way, your calf will receive sufficient nutrients to build up sound resistance immediately following birth. Rapid supply of colostrum is literally of life-saving importance: the take-up of antibodies by a calf via the colostrum works best immediately following birth. Within twelve hours, the take-up of antibodies is halved, and after 24 hours there is no further take-up of antibodies from the colostrum, into the blood.


IgG concentration in colostrum

Good-quality colostrum contains at least 50 gram IgG per litre. The first colostrum contains the highest IgG concentration; in the second colostrum, this concentration has already halved. Not every cow produces high-quality colostrum. Using a so-called colostrum meter it is possible to read off the quality of the colostrum at a single glance. The meter determines the density of the colostrum (total dry matter content in terms of fat, protein and lactose).

Antibodies in high-density colostrum

High-density colostrum is rich in antibodies. You can also use a so-called refractor meter that measures the refractive index. That index is again a measurement for the IgG content of the colostrum. Good-quality colostrum can be frozen and therefore remains available for other calves. Do not defrost colostrum in a microwave, but simply warm it up gradually (au-bain-marie).


Poor-quality colostrum

Poor-quality colostrum is often a result of the ration fed to the pregnant cows during the dry period. In an ideal dry period, a cow maintains her take-up of dry matter up to calving day. However, this is only possible if the cow has access to tasty rations 24 hours a day. The quality of the colostrum is also influenced by the raw protein content of the rations and the number of minerals and vitamins available.

If despite all these measures diarrhea and airway infections regularly occur on your farm, request an appointment with the young stock ­specialists. They will help you analyse your management: from the dry period through to the provision of colostrum and from hygiene to accommodation.

The BRIX refractometer

“Regularly check the quality of colostrum with a BRIX refractometer”

Colostrum delivers essential antibodies from cow to calf. A key factor is the quality of the colostrum. The quality of colostrum milk is directly linked to the level of solid particles or dry matter in the colostrum. The higher the level of dry matter, the better the quality.

Measuring the dry matter content is easy using a BRIX refractometer. Measuring is the first step towards effective colostrum management. This ensures optimum resistance for your calves, helps prevent diarrhea and lung problems and reduces drop-out rates.

BRIX Refractometer

A BRIX refractometer is an effective colostrum management tool for measuring quality of bovine colostrum. Through the refraction of light a BRIX refractometer can measure the dry matter content present in colostrum.

The quality of colostrum milk is directly linked to the level of solid particles or dry matter in the colostrum. The higher the level of dry matter, the higher the IgG content and better the quality.

How a BRIX refractometer works

Measuring the dry matter content is easy using a BRIX refractometer. This is a precise and easy-to-use instrument that can be used on farm.

Watch the video of previous  young stock specialist Johan Verdaasdonk f how to measure colostrum quality with a BRIX refractormeter.

Knowledge about colostum for you.

Webinar | Colostrum Management

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

The first colostrum: plenty, quickly, often, fresh and supplemented in case of emergency

Tips for warming colostrum

Tips for milking colostrum

Tips on how to defrost colostrum