Don’t blend that transition colostrum after the first milking into waste milk, advises Cornell University professor of animal science Mike Van Amburgh. Instead, keep it separate and feed it to newborn calves.

           Van Amburgh recently shared his thoughts with attendees at the 2016 Dairy Calf and Heifer Association annual conference, underscoring the value of colostrum to calves. “While a fetus is developing in-utero, the dam controls its environment entirely,” he said. “After her calf is born, she continues to share maternal influence throughout the first weeks of life via milk-borne factors. The benefits of mom’s milk, in promoting long-term health and optimal physiological development, do not end with the first feeding of colostrum.”

            The researcher said plasma immunoglobulins (Ig) have long been recognized as critical colostrum components that help provide protective immunity until calves’ immune systems develop fully. That’s why monitoring and absorption of immunoglobulin G (IgG), delivered via colostrum or colostrum replacer, has become such an important benchmark in successful calf rearing.

            “But colostrum contains many more substances beneficial to newborn calves, including steroids, hormones and growth factors such as relaxin, prolactin, insulin, IGF-1, IGF-2, and leptin,” said Van Amburgh. “Colostrum, even in its transition state at the second, third and fourth milking, also is richer in nutrients than standard cow’s milk.”

            Van Amburgh presented results from a study that showed glucose absorption was markedly improved in calves fed colostrum for the first four days of life, compared to those fed milk replacer. He said enhanced glucose absorption appears to favor anabolic processes and improves growth and energy storage. He noted that, in fact, Olympic athletes consume colostrum as a legal means of developing muscle mass.

            To capture the benefits of colostrum beyond the first feeding, Van Amburgh advised the following colostrum delivery regimen for the first four days of life:

(1)   First-milking colostrum within 6 hours of birth. Administer 4 quarts in this feeding for large breeds, 3 quarts for smaller calves.

(2)   An additional 2 quarts of first-milking colostrum at 12 hours of life.

(3)   At least 4 quarts of second-milking colostrum on Day 2 of life (over at least two feeding periods).

(4)   At least 4 quarts of third-milking colostrum on Day 3.

(5)   At least 4 quarts of fourth-milking colostrum on Day 4.

“Colostrum is a readily available resource that represents our best chance to program calves for a lifetime of health and productivity,” said Van Amburgh. “There is significant value in taking the extra measures to deliver it to newborns beyond their first day of life.”