Feeding Colostrum; The Future is Now!

Published on Thu, 09/19/2019 - 12:25pm

Feeding Colostrum; The Future is Now!

Written by Rick Dumm, DVM

 No doubt about it, the immune factors in colostrum are critical. The increase in protection means the newborn calf will be more resistant to the effects of pathogens as they are encountered. Colostrum also contains superb nutrition, hormones, growth factors, enzymes and many bioactive compounds which impact the calf through numerous pathways that are not purely immune related. With the gut of the calf bathed in these components of rich colostrum, everything from intestinal development to nutrient absorption to mammary growth is impacted. Take a look at human medicine studies that demonstrate the effects on social skills, intelligence and even down to the level of income potential. Doesn’t it make sense that we also keep an eye on the income potential of this calf that will someday join the dairy workforce? Each newborn calf represents an opportunity to improve entire herd production by enhancing genetics. The ingredients in colostrum trigger a cascade of events that are turning on extremely important gene sequences. Without colostrum, we can lose this important road map being passed from one generation to the next.

For our efforts, we can realize improved health at a herd level; reduced incidence of transmissible pathogens at the herd level; reduced sickness and mortality; optimized costs of rearing; and decreased labor, drug costs and veterinary costs. Let’s not forget the consumer of dairy who also wants to see less antibiotic use, less stress from disease, fewer dying calves and an animal with a longer productive life. These are goals that all 3 of us strive for: calf, dairymen and milk drinking customer!

Colostrum Management
So, how much volume is required to bathe the calf with the elixir of life? Filling the gut of the calf has some direct effects impacting microflora development, gut transit time and hormonal impacts on rapidly dividing cells, but we also must secure adequate absorption through the intestinal wall into the blood. At a minimum, we need to achieve > 10 mg/ml of Immunoglobulin (Ig) in the serum of the calf. Without this level, the calf faces significant health risks and possible death.  Your goal really should be 15-25mg/ml and to achieve this is quite reasonable. Quality, Volume, Speed and Biosecurity are the 4 main determining factors of whether we achieve these goals. These first 3 make sense: good quality with high levels of immunoglobulin fed in adequate amounts in a timely manner for the calf to achieve absorption. So, how does biosecurity come into this equation? Check out the data below showing 25% better absorption of IgG when colostrum is heat-treated vs feeding it raw. Right there is a huge gain in our quest to get to 15-25%!
Around the world, the following basic practices are helping to reach these goals.
1. Development of a Colostrum Bank
• Keep a readily available supply of colostrum on hand that has 50 grams of Ig/Liter
• Pasteurize your colostrum to avoid transmission of disease by pathogens and to improve absorption
2. Feeding the Correct Volume of High-Quality Colostrum
• First Feeding equal to 10% of the calf’s birthweight within the first hour of life
• Second Feeding equal to 5% birthweight 8-10 hours after First Feeding 

This aspect leads me to talk about 4 Fundamental Factors that all milk producers should know about the management of colostrum today:
1. PATHOGENS PRESENT IN THE COLOSTRUM: Despite its All-Star list of ingredients, colostrum also has a dark side. A birthing mother is stressed and nearly any “bug” she may carry can be transmitted to the calf via the colostrum. Same is true if we fail to clean her or the colostrum collection and feeding tools properly. Some are really nefarious dudes like Mycobacterium (Johne’s), Mycoplasma, Salmonella, E coli, BLV, and more. Treating at 60°C (140°F) for 60 minutes significantly reduces or eliminates these pathogens. What about the good bugs? Turns out that heat-treating actually improved the numbers of beneficial bacteria considered part of the healthy microbiome of the calf.

2. IMPROVEMENT OF IMMUNOGLOBULIN (Ig) ABSORPTION: Fewer bacteria in the gut means less binding of needed Ig molecules, less inflammation of gut tissues, less clogging of absorption sites and less damage to the specialized cells carrying out the necessary transfers. In a Univ of Minnesota study, 24-hour serum IgG was 22.3 mg/ml in calves fed pasteurized colostrum compared to 18.1 mg/ml in calves fed raw colostrum. 25%!!! This difference was significant. This study has been replicated two times with similar results. Heat-treating = more absorption and MORE IS BETTER.  

3. DECREASE OF DIARRHEA AND OTHER HEALTH PROBLEMS: A study published by the Journal of Dairy Science (95 :4029–4040) showed that colostrum pasteurization (heat treatment) decreased diarrhea by 20% in 1,071 newborn calves on 6 dairy farms in Minnesota and Wisconsin. 60°C (140°F) for 60 minutes.

4. FEEDING MORE COLOSTRUM ALSO IMPROVES MILK PRODUCTION: Finally, and maybe most importantly for long-term benefits to the animal, we must come back to that epigenetic role that colostrum plays in gene expression for these young calves. Non-genetic components in colostrum, directly impacting which genes are going to be expressed and which will not. The impact is remarkable, and this field of knowledge is increasing daily.

A very impressive study was done to look at how colostrum management would impact future milk production. Two groups of Brown Swiss calves on a dairy farm in Arizona were fed 2L and 4L of colostrum respectively at birth. The animals were followed until the end of the second lactation and the results were surprising.
• Weaning weights were higher for the 4L group (+5.1 lbs./day)
• 60% reduction in veterinary costs
• 50% lower cull rate
• By the second lactation, the 4L group had produced 2,974 pounds more milk compared to those in the 2L group.
Great information, but does it apply to you? On your farm? With your employees, weather and the usual struggles of business? Will you see results in all seasons and on hundreds or thousands of calves, not just 25 calves in a research study?
YES, and the steps to even surpass the results of all this research are actually quite simple to follow. It will require attention to a few small details, but it is easier than you might think. Here are those basic steps:
• COW IS CALVING- PREPARE COLOSTRUM: When a calf is born or a cow has begun Stage II labor, remove a bag of heat-treated colostrum from the freezer and place into Matilda® for reheating to feeding temperature.
• FIRST FEEDING - 10% OF BIRTHWEIGHT IN FIRST HOUR: Within 1 hour of birth, feed the calf 10% of its body weight in pasteurized colostrum using Perfect Udder® bags. Do not waste your time looking for ways to try to heat the bags in 20 minutes, like many companies promote. Do the math. The only way to get a frozen gallon of colostrum thawed that quickly is to use water that is much hotter than the immunoglobulins can tolerate. It is a step backward and our focus is the calf, not the calf feeder at this stage of the process.
• COLLECT COLOSTRUM: Collect the colostrum as quickly as possible from the fresh cow. If it will be held for more than 2 hours, it must be refrigerated.
• HEAT-TREAT THE COLOSTRUM: Pool colostrum twice a day and place into the DT30G pasteurizer where it is heat-treated at 140°F for 60 minutes to kill pathogenic bacteria and viruses.
• FILL PERFECT UDDER® BAGS: Fill Perfect Udder® bags directly from the DT30G pasteurizer and place them into the freezer for storage. These bags are available in 2, 3 & 4 liter volumes so that you can stock your colostrum bank with calf-size specific doses.
• A SECOND FEEDING IS STRONGLY ENCOURAGED- 5% BIRTHWEIGHT: At 8-10hrs of birth, feed the calf a second feeding that is 5% of body weight. The 2L bag works perfectly for this feeding.
• DISCARD BAG: The bags are single use for a reason. Dozens of studies demonstrate that we cannot clean a bottle properly, so there is no point in hoping we can clean a bag, either. They are affordable so that you can use your time and resources in more meaningful ways.

Colostrum management and proper feeding at birth are determining factors in the performance and profitability of your dairy farm. Yes, we can provide the calf with an immune system to stay healthy. Yes, we can also provide it with so much more. Use these guidelines to bring the added benefits of colostrum to your total herd health.