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Setting Beef Cows Up to Produce the Best Colostrum for Calves

Whether you’re raising beef calves as replacement animals for your herd or for the feedlot, the Lifetime Performance® of your calves is influenced on day one. It’s no secret that colostrum plays a critical role in starting beef calves off on the right foot. Calves are born with naked immunity, which means they depend on colostrum as their first source of nutrition and protection for their immune systems. The immunoglobulins in colostrum (IgGs) are able to pass through the calf’s digestive system within the first 12 to 24 hours of life, providing an immunity boost before natural immunity is developed. 

For decades, the beef industry has stressed the importance of ensuring calves receive colostrum in a timely manner, but the emphasis stops there. What about colostrum quality? How do we make sure the calf is receiving the most IgG in every drop of colostrum? Reflecting on my time spent working in University extension, I have found a new opportunity to refocus my conversations with beef producers. Instead of focusing on the timing of colostrum intake, I am talking about the quality of colostrum to help producers understand in-depth the role the cow plays in improving colostrum quality to increase overall calf health before that calf is even born. Colostrum quality can be impacted by a variety of factors, such as: 

  • The timing of colostrum ingestion by the calf.
  • A cow’s breed and age impacts immunoglobulin and milk supply.  
  • Vaccination status: As determined with your veterinarian. 
  • Nutrition and organic trace minerals: Proper nutrition, energy levels, protein and organic trace mineral consumption play the most crucial role when influencing the quality of colostrum in cows.  

Relying on the Cow to Produce What’s Needed 

Dairy producers regularly test colostrum quality and supplement when needed. However, as beef producers, it is more difficult to test colostrum or overall milk quality. You have to trust your cows to produce and provide for the calf. For the cow to do her best work, that means providing her with the nutrition she needs at the beginning of gestation to grow her calf and provide quality colostrum and milk for improved calf health. By implementing a strong nutrition and trace mineral program through all phases of gestation, you can have confidence that the cow will not only provide colostrum during the first 24 hours of calf life but also will be nourishing the calf with the highest-quality colostrum she can produce.

Fueling the Cow for Higher-quality Colostrum and Healthier Calves 

Implementing a strong trace mineral program is key to ensuring high quality colostrum production and eliminates the guesswork. Late gestation has the greatest impact on colostrum production, but it’s hard to compensate for trace mineral gaps in a short time frame, which is why providing trace minerals year-round is the recommended method to set your herd up for success. When cows receive the correct overall and trace mineral nutrition, they should have a body condition score (BCS) of 4, 5 or 6 at calving. Cows with these BCS scores are best set up to produce higher IgG content. 

Knowing the crucial role colostrum plays, we’ve done a significant amount of research here at Zinpro. When beef cows are fed Zinpro Performance Minerals®, they have a 28% increase in colostrum IgG content. When calves receive a higher IgG content from the cow, it helps decrease calf morbidity, reduce bovine respiratory disease (BRD) and diarrhea.  

By feeding a complete organic trace mineral package that incorporates Zinpro Performance Minerals, overall milk quality improves and translates into lifetime benefits for your calves. As bovine colostrum transitions to milk, IgGs continue to be present and are contributing to gut health improvement in the calf. By equipping the cow to supply high-quality colostrum, you can secure successful Lifetime Performance for your calves and ensure your cow herd remains a productive, high-performing investment. 

Multiple studies have shown an increase in colostrum IgG content when feeding Zinpro Performance Minerals. 

Giving your beef cows the ability to produce the best-quality colostrum possible is critical for maximizing profitability. Focusing on cow nutrition during gestation can give you confidence that your cows will be able to set their calves up for optimal Lifetime Performance from day one. Follow along for the next article in the Lifetime Performance blog series to learn more about how you can optimize reproductive performance in your cow herd by improving the conception rate with Zinpro Performance Minerals.  

Visit our website to learn more about promoting Lifetime Performance in your beef herd through all phases of production. Zinpro beef specialists are ready to partner with you.

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