Calves are born with no natural protection from disease and it can take 3 to 4 weeks for them to develop their own antibodies. One of the best ways to protect your calves during this time, is to give them colostrum ─ the first milk produced by the cow or heifer after she has calved. Colostrum contains the antibodies that a calf needs to fight disease and infection in early life.
To maximise the benefits your calves receive from colostrum, you need to focus on three key factors:
- timing – give it quickly
- quality – measure the quality
- quantity – give them enough
Timing – when to give colostrum
The quicker the better! A calf’s ability to absorb antibodies from the gut declines rapidly after birth. The optimum time for absorption of these important antibodies is the first 12 hours of a calf’s life.
Quality – the antibody concentration
The concentration of antibodies in colostrum can vary greatly. It is important to measure the quality of available colostrum so your calves receive the correct volume for good passive transfer of immunity. You can measure colostrum quality with an instrument called a Brix refractometer. This is a good investment at $45 and is available from The Vet Group.
Quantity – correct amount of colostrum
The amount of colostrum to feed depends on the quality of the colostrum available. Good quality colostrum has a higher concentration of antibodies so less is needed for good passive transfer of immunity. When using a Brix refractometer to measure the quality of colostrum use the quantities recommended in The Vet Group’s CalfWise Field Guide. The Guide also points out that after 12 hours a single feed of colostrum is never enough.
For further information on colostrum management, Brix refractometers or other calf related products call The Vet Group Farm Services 1300 838 700 to speak to one of our CalfWise veterinarians.