meta From MYTHS to MASTERY of COLOSTRUM FEEDING :: The Bullvine - The Dairy Information You Want To Know When You Need It



“If it ain’t broke don’t fix it!”
Everyone on the dairy farm knows how to start feeding calves.  At least they think they do.  The problem may not be in the way they feed colostrum, but in the way they measure success.  Calves are born.  Calves are fed colostrum.  Calves do well.  Until they don’t. The sneaky hidden challenges or problems can be overlooked by seeing what appears to be a healthy calf.

“How much does it cost?”
Here again it’s the method of measurement that could be the problem. Many times if you write a check for the input that alone makes it seems to costly. However, anyone who feels that feeding the mother’s naturally produced colostrum is “free” is only fooling themselves.  Milk costs money.  You should always know the real cost to produce milk on your farm including each step from raising your herd to filling the bulk tank.  Secondly, not all costs are out of today’s pocket.  If a calf grows into a poorly performing milk cow, do we ever look back and determine if those first few days of her life had any cause and effect on that situation.

“It’s too much work!”
In the dairy business we often grow into the work practices that we use.  When you perform the same skill repeatedly, you modify your methods, tools and results as time goes on.  Or maybe you don’t.  This is true for feeding of colostrum. Many times the best way can gradually give way to the fastest or easiest way.

“My part of the calf program is successful just the way it is!”
Sometimes the person or team who manage calf care and feeding do not overlap with the team that works in the milkhouse.  There may not be dialogue on what is working and what is not so successful.  One should be especially aware that a calf that does not make it into the milk line is a major failure of the program.

“I want the best colostrum.  Does that mean fresh, frozen or replacement?”
Dairy farmers love to talk dairy and here at The Bullvine we are thoroughly enjoying the input and insights we get through the magazine and through discussions on The Milk House. Recently colostrum came up for discussion with this question: “What’s everyone’s opinion on feeding colostrum vs. colostrum replacer? We’re paying $30/bag of colostrum replacer we feed fresh colostrum if the calf is born in the morning.  We never freeze colostrum but are starting to think about it since it’s just going down the drain anyway.  Opinion on freezing it? Tried it years ago and had terrible luck with it.” What followed was a fantastic discussion that spilled over into emails, phone calls and even my extended family had interesting viewpoints.

“Mother’s Milk”
A Milk House member started the discussion by reporting, “According to Mike Van Ambrugh of Cornell, you should always feed the colostrum from the dam to the calf.  That cow has a unique set of antibodies in the milk that will help the calf succeed.” A response quickly came in noting the downside of this factual viewpoint which was being experienced on their farm. “Sometimes you can’t feed the mother’s milk. We can’t feed our heifers mom’s colostrum due to Leucosis positive cows.  Until we know exactly who is positive and who is negative, all heifers get colostrum replacer.  Bulls get whatever mom gives unless we’re keeping the bull then he gets the replacer too!” Some skeptics may quickly say that they don’t have a leucosis problem. That too was addressed by one respondent. “We just recently found out that Leucosis was an issue, when a cow presented with visible symptoms of it.”  Many others chimed in with a list of other reasons that make it impossible to give mother’s milk. “If the cow dies, it is a downer cow –or for various reasons, you cannot get her milked in time.”  Two key questions were also raised, “What if her colostrum is not good enough? Or she doesn’t produce enough?”

“Who knows the best way to manage colostrum feedings?”
Dairy folk are no different than any other business managers.  When looking for advice, we can look until we find the answer that supports what we are already doing thus avoiding any need for the dreaded change situation.  Of course, it is always wise to consider where the advice is coming from.  Don’t fall into assuming that if you read it or heard it, that it must be right.

“Develop your own colostrum protocol.”

It is always a good idea to have well thought out best practices for managing colostrum feeding. One dairy person wrote. “I save colostrum from ladies who are 5+ year old and have two negative Johnes tests…especially for first calf heifers.” Another manager explained, “It depends for us.  If it’s nowhere near milking and we don’t have any colostrum frozen, we use a mix. If we milk the cow right away or if she will let us strip her, we will.” There are many variations and one that we heard was this one. “We always freeze colostrum from older cows in jugs. If she’s a second calver or older, we will milk or strip her for the calf.  All heifer calves from heifers get frozen colostrum.”

“I’m not changing!”
As you can imagine, opinions about colostrum vary widely in exactly the same way that our readership represents a broad spectrum of dairy folks.  One stated emphatically, “I would rather have colostrum from my own cows instead of replacer any day.”  The reasoning was clearly stated. “It doesn’t make sense to me to buy someone else’s crap even though it’s ‘superior’ when we vaccinate our cattle etc. so the colostrum should be a ‘good’ fit for our calf’s needs.” The clincher came down to money. “Colostrum is ridiculously priced if you ask me…margins on it are just amazing I imagine.” These are good points provided one major question is accurately determined. “Whether your colostrum is home grown or purchased, make sure it has been tested” This is not an area to base on your assumptions!

“Colostrum MUST be tested!” 

Personally, many of us felt that the best advice shared was that all colostrum must be tested.  “Test with a brix meter.” “We only freeze colostrum that’s over 25 on the Brix scale.” One reader expressed another question, “Where does one find a Brix?  I have seen several people mention them. I have only heard of Brix being measured for grapes.”  The answer was concise.” It’s one and the same…just Google. We purchase through local vets.”

“Great discussion.  I might be changing our SOPs.”

Choices always turn on what actually works on the dairy operation. “We vaccinate our cows with the rotavac corona vaccine.  We bring cows in ASAP after calving, clean the teats with wipes, then collect the colostrum.  We test it with a Brix refractometer—above 24% we will put into an Udder Perfect bag and add potassium.” Sounds good and may influence other dairy managers. “All of our cows get their mums colostrum and they do great.  But, seeing the posts about people checking the quality of colostrum has made me want to try testing just to see what the results would be.”

“What containers do you use for colostrum?”
There were many suggestions for how to collect colostrum, with many contributors suggesting gallon zip lock bags or gallon freezer bags.  “I double bag in 2 gallon freezer bags.” One suggestion was to “Only fill with 1 newborn feeding (depends on your breed and size). I lay them in the large wash vat sink to warm them.” Perfect Udder Bags received a lot of support. “All the colostrum for our heifers is in Perfect Udder Bags.  We switched about 2 years ago and will never go back to anything else.  We pasteurize, store, freeze and reheat them with little to no trouble.  We have an occasional bag break but very few.  We will keep bags froze up to 6 months but it never lasts that long around here.”

“Colostrum mistaken identity.”
It isn’t surprising that sometimes people can be confused when they discover colostrum in half gallon jugs, coffee cans or other suitable containers. The best story came from the dairy which used pails. “We typically freeze our colostrum in 2 gallon pails. I did that and Boy, was my hubby in for a shock when he grabbed the ice cream.  We learned to keep the ice cream in a separate freezer now.  I used to have to really watch.”

“Thawing must be done with precision.”
After carefully making all the right decisions, it is especially important not to ruin it all by improper preparation of the colostrum.  “You are supposed to thaw frozen colostrum slowly in warm, not hot, water – not above 60 degrees. And not below 50 degrees centigrade. ““Don’t microwave it.”  When mixing colostrum speed must be sacrificed for correctness.  ALWAYS follow directions exactly.  This is not the time to think more about your time than about the needs of the calf.

“Colostrum is a revenue stream”

Sometimes you just can’t help looking at the dollar difference. “What we do is basically sell all our surplus colostrum to a company and we buy the powder replacement.” Another says, “We sell to a company that makes replacer and to a neighbor who occasionally needs some for a new fawn.”

The Bullvine Bottom Line

We have only started to consider the many factors that must be assessed when setting up an effect colostrum protocol for your dairy. One breeder summed up.  Always take into consideration that there are factors in colostrum that you can’t immediately see i.e. growth hormones, the health and vitality of the new calf, scour rates.  Many factors affect milk production in their lifetime and they are now being linked back to colostrum.”  Best regards to you in getting your herd off to a great start!



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