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Colostrum: It’s important

The following is a CattleFACS brochure reprinted with the permission of the Farm Animal Council of Saskatchewan.  (FACS represents the Saskatchewan livestock industry in advancing responsible animal care and handling practices in agriculture.)

Newborn calves have virtually no immunity of their own.  Antibodies are transferred from the cow to colostrum (first milk).  These antibodies protect the calf from disease for the first two months until the calf begins to make its own antibodies.

Significant absorption of antibodies only occurs in the first 12 hours of life.  After that time most antibodies are digested, although some can act locally in the gut.  It is essential calves receive colostrum within a maximum of 12 hours to develop immunity to infectious agents they may meet in the first two months of life.

Newborn calves need colostrum


  • Ideally calves should nurse within the first six hours after birth for maximum absorption of antibodies;
  • Weak or mis-mothered calves should be tube-fed colostrum collected fresh or stored (frozen and thawed in warm water when needed); colostrum from any cow can be used.

Feeding calves with help of a tube:

  • Obtain a tubing kit from your veterinarian or an enema kit from a pharmacy;
  • Gently restrain the calf standing or sitting down – but upright;
  • Measure the tube against the calf to estimate how much must be passed to reach the stomach; mark the tube
  • Introduce the nozzle of the tube into the calf’s mouth gently; don’t lift the head
  • Let the calf swallow
  • To be sure you are in the right place you should be able to feel the tube pass down the neck; if you can’t feel the tube then you know you are not in the windpipe
  • Gently pour down 1-2 litres of colostrum,
  • Clamp off the tube and remove

Notes on Colostrum:

1. A calf needs 1-2 litres of colostrum within 2-12 hours after birth. Almost all calves that “sicken” with diarrhea, navel ill, septicemia (blood poisoning) or pneumonia have failure of passive transfer (FPT) of IgG (colostral immunoglobulins) from cow’s first milk.

2. Take note of calves that have not nursed properly with 2-3 hours post-partum.  A judgment on action to be taken should be made.

a. In cold weather calves will chill and may not nurse in time.  They should be fed via a tube because colostrum provides readily-available energy as well.

b. On a warm day give the pair more time.

c. Assume an apparently abandoned calf has not suckled and should be fed.

3. Be prepared for mothering and nursing challenges by taking advantage of opportunities to collect colostrum from cows that have lost calves or that have an abundance of first milk.

4. Fresh colostrum, on a busy day during the calving season, may be kept at room temperature.  If no calvings occur, fresh colostrum can last 7-10 days in a refrigerator.  Freeze extra colostrum in 1-2 litres lots for easy storage and thawing.

If you want to see this original CattleFACS brochure go to facs.sk.ca.




Posted by FACS on December 19th, 2013 :: Filed under Animal care,Beef cattle,Dairy cattle
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