Storing colostrum for optimum passive immunity

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Cow calf producers are aware that natural colostrum must be ingested by baby calves within 6 hours of birth to acquire satisfactory passive immunity.  However some calves do not have ample opportunity to receive colostrum.  Perhaps the mother is a thin, two-year-old that does not give enough milk or the baby calf was stressed by a long delivery process and is too sluggish to get up and nurse in time to get adequate colostrum.  These calves need to be hand fed stored colostrum in order to have the best opportunity to survive scours infections and/or respiratory diseases.  Therefore stored frozen colostrum from a dairy or from other beef cows that lost calves at calving can be on hand to meet these needs.

Colostrum can be refrigerated for only about 1 week before quality (immunoglobulin or antibody concentration) declines.  If you store colostrum, unfrozen be sure that the refrigerator is cold (33-35°F, 1-2°C) to reduce the onset of bacterial growth.  If the colostrum begins to show signs of souring, the quality of the colostrum is reduced.  The immunglobulin (very large protein) molecules in colostrum that bring passive immunity to the calf will be broken down by the bacteria, reducing the amount of immunity that the colostrum can provide.  Thus, it is important that colostrum be stored in the refrigerator for only a week or less.

How long can the frozen colostrum be stored?  We often answer this question flippantly by saying, "just as long as you would store frozen fish to eat!"  Colostrum may be frozen for up to a year without significant breakdown of the immunoglobulins.  However this is one example where improved technology is not in our favor.  Frost-free freezers are not the best for long-term colostrum storage.  They go through cycles of freezing and thawing that can allow the colostrum to partially thaw.  This can greatly shorten colostrum storage life.  Freezing colostrum in 1 or 2 quart bottles or 1 quart in 1 gallon zip-closure storage bags is an excellent method of storing colostrum.  Many producers have had great success using the zip-closure bags.  Use two bags to minimize the chance of leaking, and lay them flat in the freezer.  By laying the bags flat, the rate of thawing can be increased, thereby reducing the delay between time of calving and feeding.  The freezer should be cold (-20°C,  -5°F) - it's a good idea to check your freezer occasionally. 

Source: Glenn Selk, Oklahoma State University Emeritus Extension Animal Scientist




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Daniel Marvel    
High Springs Florida  |  December, 28, 2011 at 12:02 PM

What is the best method to thaw the frozen colostrum?

Daniel Marvel    
High Springs Florida  |  December, 28, 2011 at 12:02 PM

What is the best method to thaw the frozen colostrum?

Dr. Susan Kerr    
Washington State  |  January, 11, 2012 at 12:29 PM

Thaw frozen colostrum is a water bath, not a microwave. Microwaving will destroy the antibodies in colostrum. Remember biosecurity issues if you use colostrum from an off-farm source, especially a commercial dairy. You can import diseases such as Johne's into your herd this way and you don't want to do that! Same farm, same species colostrum is recommended, and colostrum from test-negative individuals is best. You can kill pathogens in colostrum by heat treating it (not pasteurizing) to 135-140 degrees F for 60 min., stirring often.

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