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Check Your Cow’s Colostrum in 30 Seconds, Improve Early Calf Development

5 minute read

We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again: colostrum is the most important meal in the life of a dairy calf. Calves are born without a fully functional immune system and rely exclusively on passive transfer of immunity from colostrum consumption during their first feeding or two after birth. This will enable the calf to fight off diseases and other immune challenges for the first three to four weeks of life.

Read More: Importance of Colostrum for Calves

To achieve passive transfer, calves must consume at least 150 grams of Immunoglobulin G (IgG). There are several short- and long-term consequences of calves not achieving passive transfer of immunity by not consuming enough Immunoglobulin G (IgG) from colostrum:

  1. They are more likely to get sick or die.
  2. They won’t grow as well during the first months of life.
  3. They are less likely to live to see the end of their second lactation.
  4. They produce less milk during their first and second lactations.
  5. Your vet bills can increase by roughly $10 per calf.

To increase the likelihood your calves achieve passive transfer of immunity, the first step is to test your cow’s colostrum quality after the first milking following calving. It only takes 30 seconds and all you need is a Brix refractometer or colostrometer. Once you know your cow’s colostrum quality, you can decide if it is safe to feed or if you will need to supplement or replace it with a colostrum powder, like Premolac®. Simply put, we need to know what we are dealing with!

A New Approach to Achieving Passive Transfer of Immunity

  1. In the past, passive transfer of immunity in dairy calves was considered a pass-or-fail test. In those days, we tested colostrum with a Brix refractometer before a calf’s first feeding to make one of two decisions: Brix > ~24% – your colostrum is good-quality, and it was fed to calves.
  2. Brix < ~24% – your colostrum was NOT good-quality and discarded or used for other purposes and a colostrum replacer containing 150 g of IgG may have been used.

Within the last year, however, the USDA has released guidelines that recommend a more tiered approach to determining immune status of the calf and increased the threshold that must be reached to achieve optimal passive transfer.

The new guidelines may seem daunting but can result in massive improvements in mortality and morbidity on the farm. A new option exists to help producers achieve these new standards: supplementing maternal colostrum with colostrum powder.

Now that supplementing colostrum powder on top of maternal colostrum is recognized as a viable option for helping calves achieve passive transfer, you can now use a Brix refractometer to make one of three choices:

As you can see, if your Brix refractometer reads between 18% and 24%, this colostrum is no longer discarded, but rather enhanced with a colostrum supplement. There are two main benefits associated with this approach:

  1. Colostrum that was previously discarded can now be used at the first feeding, making colostrum use more efficient on the farm.
  2. Calves that would have previously received a colostrum replacer now receive a colostrum supplement (with less IgG) that reduces the cost per calf.

This strategy has been shown to help calves achieve higher levels of passive transfer of immunity. In fact, recent data out of Penn State University has shown supplementing “moderate-quality” colostrum with a colostrum supplement significantly improved immune status and helped calves achieve the new passive transfer expectations. Incorporating this strategy improves the likelihood that you can achieve “good” or “excellent” passive transfer while utilizing more of your colostrum and keeping more money in your pocket.

Supplement with Premolac Colostrum Powder

Not all colostrum powders are created equal. Many colostrum powders contain fat and casein in addition to the IgG, which results in a much higher feeding rate. Fat and casein also make it harder to mix, require you to add water, and can even interfere with IgG absorption in the calves.

On the other hand, Premolac colostrum uses the PathWhey℠ Technology that removes the fat and casein to make a concentrate. This results in a product that goes into solution much easier and allows for a lower feeding rate, making it a more cost-effective solution for your calves. We have found that Premolac colostrum, when used as a supplement, significantly improves serum IgG at 24 hours and increases the efficiency with which IgG is absorbed.

One farm in the United States that I recently worked with was not using a lot of their colostrum. They were feeding their high-quality colostrum and throwing out anything that was moderate-quality or lower. By introducing the concept of supplementing moderate-quality maternal colostrum with Premolac, we were able to help them cut costs and improve calf health almost overnight.

Another farm I worked with in Asia had very poor colostrum management. They were losing about 20% of their calves each year. In addition to implementing new biosecurity and cleaning measures, we directed them to begin supplementation with Premolac. When we revisited the farm six months later, they had not lost a single calf over that period.

Take 30 Seconds to Improve Colostrum Management Today

The new approach of supplementing colostrum doesn’t take a lot of extra work, rather a new thought process. By taking 30 seconds to check your cows’ colostrum quality with a Brix refractometer, you can determine the next steps with your colostrum strategy, potentially saving you money and improving calf health.

To learn about the different ways you can incorporate Premolac into your calf nutrition program, connect with your Zinpro representative today.

References Available Upon Request