The first feed must be absolutely optimum
The first colostrum is by far the most important meal a cow will ever have. We cannot emphasize this enough. Yet 50% of the colostrum at the average dairy farm contains less antibodies than calves require in their first feed! All the more reason to work through the protocol for colostrum from A to Z.
Why is the colostrum so important?
At birth, calves do not have antibodies to ward off pathogens, and therefore have no resistance at all to any ambient diseases. The calf can only build up the necessary antibodies by drinking sufficient good-quality colostrum as soon as possible after its birth. Good colostrum contains not only antibodies but also ingredients which stimulate initial evacuation of faeces, and easily digestible nutrients, minerals and vitamins.
The antibodies in colostrum are contained in the large protein molecules, known as immunoglobulins. Calves are only capable of absorbing these fully intact antibodies from the milk during the first 24 hours following their birth. This has two reasons:
- The level of acidity in the fourth stomach is still so high that the antibodies are not broken down.
- The intestinal wall allows absorption of the intact antibodies during the first 24 hours, and no longer than that.
So what is quick, sufficient and good?
- Quick: provide the first feed within 1 hour of calving. The calf's capacity to absorb the antibodies properly is highest directly after birth, and declines with each passing hour.
- Sufficient: the first 4 litres within an hour of calving and a total of approximately 6 litres within 24 hours. These volumes are required to make the most of the calf's absorption capacity and to give the animal maximum resistance and growth opportunities right from day one.
- Good: In any case, colostrum from a cow present at the farm for some time, who will therefore have developed antibodies to location-specific pathogens. This is not necessarily the colostrum produced by the calf's own mother! In fact: another cow's colostrum can sometimes be better quality. It is essential that you check the quality of the colostrum for purity and concentration of antibodies. The calf must cope with only the antibodies from the colostrum for the first weeks; calves require 3 weeks to develop their own resistance to disease.
Mother cow colostrum or frozen version?
An excellent system of colostrum management is required in order to guarantee all calves receive sufficient, good quality colostrum within an hour of their birth. Can you manage that within an hour? Can you milk the mother so quickly and also check her colostrum? And if you use frozen colostrum, how can you bring it to the required 40° C temperature on time?
The question also arises whether you should feed colostrum from the mother or controlled quality colostrum from another cow who has been at the farm longer.
Sprayfo focuses on the quality of the colostrum and the speed with which you can feed it to the calf. In practice, it is often difficult to milk the mother within an hour of her calving, to check her colostrum and to feed the calf 4 litres of controlled colostrum. Another cow's controlled colostrum from the freezer is an excellent and sometimes even better alternative if the mother's colostrum is lacking in quality.
If you want to feed the calf its own mother's colostrum, milk the cow to collect at least 4 litres of colostrum directly after calving. Check that there is no visible dirt floating in the colostrum and check the concentration of antibodies in the colostrum directly after milking. Various types of colostrum meters are available for this purpose.
Once the colostrum has been approved, feed the calf 4 litres within an hour of its birth [see colostrum feeding protocol]. If the mother does not produce enough colostrum for her calf, use the controlled frozen colostrum.
If you do not feed the calf colostrum from its own mother, milk the cow within 6 hours of calving. This colostrum can then be checked, and frozen for a first feed in the future, if the quality is approved.
Colostrum feeding protocol
- Within an hour of the birth, feed the calf 4 litres of controlled quality colostrum. This may be colostrum from the mother cow, approved colostrum from another cow on the farm or approved, frozen colostrum.
Healthy calves drink 3-4 litres of colostrum without a problem. The calf's fourth stomach is small to start with (holding 2.5 litres), but soon grows once the calf is fed.
- The temperature of the colostrum must be as close to the calf's body temperature as possible, i.e. around 40 degrees. Always use an immersion bath for the heating process.
Never heat colostrum in the microwave! Make sure the colostrum is heated evenly, without overheating.
- When possible, feed using a teat bottle, as this gives the best possible feeding take-up.
- If the calf is not strong enough to drink properly, use a feeding tube. For weak calves in particular, the 4 litres of colostrum are extremely important.
When using a feeding tube, the colostrum is fed into the fourth stomach. This is only possible for the very first feed, as the rumen in still sterile and clean at this point. After a number of days, bacteria develops in the rumen, so that tube feeding is no longer possible.
- If the calf is born early in the morning, a second colostrum feed is given after 12-16 hours. Feed the calf approximately 2 litres.
- A colostrum mix (transition milk) can be fed after the first day, and is subject to other conditions. Read all about feeding after the 1st day in step 4.