Colostrum is of vital importance!
Colostrum provides the best start in life for a calf, or any other newborn mammal. The more research has been conducted, the clearer it gets how important colostrum really is. If a calf doesn’t get enough of it, this will have a major impact on its development and production later on.
It is widely known that colostrum should be of good quality. But when exactly is its quality to be regarded as ‘good’? And what do the abbreviations IgG and IgA, that are always used in this respect, actually mean?
In this newsletter, we have put together all important facts. Furthermore, there is a colostrum protocol to be found on our website, that can be downloaded to help you in optimising your colostrum provision.
What exactly makes colostrum that important?
The composition of colostrum is essentially different from that of ordinary milk (see schedule below).
The high portions of fat and protein in colostrum are needed to provide the calf with a sufficient amount of energy, shortly after its birth. The rich fat and protein supplies give the calf, so to say, a ‘kick start’ in life. Compared with ordinary milk, colostrum also contains much more vitamins. But the thing that makes colostrum so very special and absolutely indispensable for a newborn calf, is the high amount of immunoglobulins (also known as antibodies). These really are of vital importance for a calf, which is being born without antigens. For resistance against contamination by diseases during the first weeks of its life, it is entirely dependent on the immunoglobulins it derives from drinking colostrum. This phenomenon is called maternal immunity.
Immunoglobulins, shortly referred to as Ig, can be subdivided in four groups: IgG and IgM, IgA, IgD, and IgE.
IgG and IgM
These antibodies circulate in the bloodstream and form an important defence against pathogens.
This group of antigens is to be found on the nasal mucosa and in the pharynx (throat). For the body, the IgA are very important as a first line of defence against the threat of various infections.
This type of immunoglobulins is attached to the surface of white blood cells (leukocytes) and plays an important role in the overall immunity of the body.
The IgE-group helps the body to prevent allergic reactions.
When it comes to colostrum and colostrum protocols, it’s always said colostrum should be of good quality. But what exactly determines its quality? In order to provide the calf with a good defence system, a calf should get at least 250 immunoglobulins on its first day after birth. Therefore, it is of vital importance that colostrum really does have this amount of antigens. This can be easily ascertained by measuring the colostrum using a brix meter. The results can be compared to the values in the schedule below, that provides a general insight into the quality of the colostrum that has been examined.
Naturally, all our representatives are very willing to help you with any questions regarding the quality of colostrum on your farm. Please feel free to ask!
The old rule of thumb: Fast, Many, Often and Fresh
Nothing can go wrong with your colostrum management, when the quality of the colostrum is secured and the old rule of thumb is applied: Fast, Many, Often and Fresh.
Fast: make sure that a calf gets at least two litres of colostrum within half an hour after birth. Furthermore, a calf must be fed a total of six litres of colostrum during its first twenty-four hours. This is especially important because the intestinal wall of a calf in this period still is permeable to the (big) immunoglobulins. Antigens therefore are well absorbed into the blood during the first day after birth, as long as a calf is provided with enough and good colostrum. Each hour after the birth, the permeability of the intestinal wall decreases with five percent. Nevertheless, it is still useful to give a calf colostrum, also after the first day! Although the immunoglobulins after this term don’t pass the intestinal wall anymore, they still perform an important task at intestinal level.
Many: if a calf is able to drink at least six litres of colostrum during its first day after birth, it is ensured that it receives enough antibodies. Moreover, this way a calf is also provided with plenty of essential nutrients and sufficient moisture.
Often: from a health point of view, it is preferable to feed a calf several small portions of colostrum, distributed throughout the day.
Fresh: colostrum should be provided at a temperature of forty degrees Celsius. Preferably fresh. Frozen portions can be defrosted by putting the package into a small bucket of hot water (au bain marie). This water should not be hotter than fifty degrees Celsius. Water with a higher temperature causes damage to the structure of the milk protein. You must always keep left over colostrum in the refrigerator. At room temperature, colostrum is a nutritional basis for unwanted bacteria. Make sure that all the materials, that are used in milking the colostrum, are clean.
Never throw away colostrum of good quality!
If a cow gives more colostrum than is needed, and it’s of good quality, never throw it away. It can easily be frozen. The stock of colostrum that is kept in the freezer, can prove to be very useful at a time a cow doesn’t have colostrum of sufficient quality. Fresh, unused colostrum should be put into the freezer shortly after it has been milked. Frozen colostrum stays good up to a year, provided that it has been kept at a temperature of minus twenty degrees Celsius. It is convenient to freeze colostrum in small portions, that can be defrosted easily. Ziplock bags prove to be very useful. Now you always have quick access to colostrum of good quality.