Most people buy insurance to safeguard an important asset — their health, home, the family car.

Colostrum replacers are like an insurance policy for newborn calves. When no high-quality maternal colostrum is available, they help safeguard your calves.

Producers who use colostrum replacers on a regular basis, or intermittently as the situation dictates, say the “premium” they pay — $50 or so per calf — is a good investment.

Here are some situations when you might want to consider “insuring” the health of your calves with a colostrum replacer.           

Help during herd expansion

One dairy in western New York turned to colostrum replacer after it had purchased a large number of replacement heifers. Because there wasn’t enough space in the close-up facility to freshen the additional heifers, the dairy contracted with another producer to freshen the heifers off-site.

The colostrum replacer came into the picture for two reasons: (1) the dairy does not feed colostrum from first-calf heifers for quality reasons, and (2)  maternal colostrum was not available at the off-site facility.

However, the dairy declined comment on its experience with colostrum replacers. It is battling some challenges at the off-site facility, which are limiting the success of the colostrum replacer.

Don’t let this dairy’s setback deter you from using a colostrum replacer in a similar situation. “Ours is a very specific, unique situation,” explains the dairy’s herd manager. A colostrum replacer would normally be a “good fit” under these circumstances, he adds. But, before it can perform as expected on this farm, they need to identify and remove the roadblocks that are preventing the replacer from doing its job.

Battle the bad bugs

Colostrum replacer is a good fit when overwhelming numbers of bacteria in maternal colostrum threaten calf health and survival.

Sam Leadley, calf-care specialist with Attica Veterinary Associates in Attica, N.Y., has witnessed the use of colostrum replacers on dairies that struggle with bacterial contamination of fresh colostrum.

For some dairies, keeping colostrum clean at harvest is a challenge because of poor cow prep, mediocre equipment sanitation or sloppy collection techniques. For others, cooling, storage and feeding protocols beg for improvement. And still others run into trouble with high bacteria counts because of a bottleneck with their heat-treatment equipment.

At times like this, a colostrum replacer can help fill the void until management resolves the contamination problem.

Break a disease cycle

Colostrum replacer also plays a vital role on farms that are trying to break a disease cycle, Leadley says. For instance, farms facing a huge Johne’s challenge use colostrum replacer to reduce the possibility of transferring this disease through fecal-contaminated colostrum. Generally, he sees farms use a colostrum replacer for the equivalent of one calving interval. This strategy helps them move a step forward in their disease-control program.

Offer emergency assistance

One of the most common uses of colostrum replacers is during an all-out “there’s-no-maternal-colostrum-available” emergency. That’s why Cole Beaver of Dale Beaver Farms in Randolph, N.Y., keeps plenty of colostrum replacer on hand.

The 800-cow dairy only uses frozen colostrum. Prior to freezing, it is heat-treated to 140 degrees F for one hour. In the event of an emergency — the batch pasteurizer breaks down or a bag of frozen colostrum develops a hole and leaks into the thaw bath — he has a backup plan for getting vital antibodies into newborn calves within minutes of calving.

And he’s pleased with the results.

Calves perform just as well as their peers fed high-quality maternal colostrum. They may take to grain a little later than those fed maternal colostrum, Beaver says, but they still grow at identical rates.

Failure of passive transfer isn’t a problem either. Calf serum-protein levels still average 5 grams per deciliter or more, which is a desirable level for adequate passive transfer. And as far as health problems go, “we haven’t had a case of scours in six months,” Beaver says. So when the batch pasteurizer fails, Beaver can be assured that calves are still getting the immunoglobulins they need to ward off health problems.

Out of 70 calves born per month, about five of them receive colostrum replacer. One time, the pasteurizer broke down and they had to use colostrum replacer for nine days in a row, Beaver says. At roughly $60 for two doses per calf, that can add up fast.

The cost — roughly $300 or so per month on this dairy — pales in comparison to the negative effects Beaver would see if he fed poor-quality colostrum or none at all. “It outweighs it 90 to one,” he says. “I wouldn’t raise calves if I couldn’t pasteurize colostrum or use replacer if it breaks down.”


Do you have questions about colostrum replacers? learn more about them and how they differ from colostrum supplements. Go to and type in “Fill the colostrum void” in the search window.