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  • Colostrum colostrum colostrum!

    Posted on by Abii Dowdy

    We really cannot stress enough HOW important colostrum consumption is for any newborn animal. The best way to prevent issues with youngstock is to ensure they get the correct amount of colostrum within the first 4 hours of life. Colostrum can only be consumed for a very short period of time following birth so it’s essential that your calves receive the correct amount as early as possible.

    • Colostrum is the first milk produced by the udder following birth. It is essential that newborn calves have plenty of colostrum to help fight disease and to encourage growth. Newborns will receive proteins, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins and minerals and they need at least 8.5-10% of their bodyweight in the first 4 hours of life. This is roughly 4 – 4.5 litres of quality colostrum.


    • Calves are born with no immunity and rely on consuming the immunoglobulins (antibodies) in colostrum to protect them against disease. Without the appropriate amount of colostrum they are more at risk of developing watery mouth, scour, sepsis, navel ill, joint ill, pneumonia and more.


    • It is always best for the calf to receive the colostrum from their dam rather than any sort of replacement as these products will only contain a fraction of the necessary immunoglobulins, leaving them vulnerable. The benefits of good colostrum management at birth will include lower death rates, higher daily live weight gains and reduced antibiotic use over the animal’s lifetime.


    • If you want to check the quality of colostrum you can invest in a colostrometer or a Brix refractometer, this way you’ll know if you need to supplement colostrum. A colostrometer is a device is a weight that’s placed in a cylinder of colostrum to be measured. If the colostrum is of good quality (above 50mg/ml) then the device will float. If it is poor quality, then the device will sink to the bottom of the cylinder (usually if the colostrum is of a quality less than 20mg/ml).
    • It is vital to ensure that calves can stand and suckle colostrum. Assess the suck reflex to ensure that the calf has no problem feeding/drinking. If this reflex is reduced or the calf is weak and can’t stand then it may be necessary to bottle feed or tube feed the calf to ensure it receives colostrum as soon as possible.


    • Ensuring the calving environment is clean will reduce the risk of your calf contracting anything harmful before they have absorbed the essential immunoglobulins from the colostrum.


    • Pregnant cows should be moved carefully and appropriately in the pre-calving period as any stress on the dam could lead to a stressful birth. Stressful, assisted or prolonged births can affect the calf leaving it weaker and less able to stand and suckle. These calves will have a poorer chance of survival unless identified and carefully managed.


    • Ensuring you have treated the navels of any newborn calves is also essential to reduce the risk of infection. After birth, the blood vessels in the umbilical cord remain open, meaning that bacteria can easily enter the calf’s abdomen. Use an iodine solution mixed with surgical spirit to kill any bacteria and encourage the remains of the umbilical cord to dry up. Wet navels can be the source of many conditions such as septicaemia, meningitis and joint-ill. It is also good practice to use iodine if you plan to tag or castrate the calves in their first few days. Spray the base of the ear tags or the castration site with iodine to help minimise the risk of any infection.



    If you’d like any more advice on colostrum management at calving, please contact the team on 01327 350239 to speak to one of our farm vets.