The newborn calf’s immune system is underdeveloped, so it depends on colostrums to supply critical “passive immunity” to ward off illness and infection, plus other colostral factors necessary to enhance calf health, growth and performance.
But not all colostrum is created equal, points out an article from the Dairy Calf and Heifer Association. High-quality colostrums depends on a number of factors:
- Mom’s health and immune status. Healthier, vaccinated cows have higher antibody levels in their colostrum.
- Effective cleaning of the udder and sanitization of hands and containers. Colostrum should measure less than 100,000 cfu/ml TPC (total plate count). Total coliform count should be less than 10,000 cfu/ml.
- Milking promptly. Cows should be milked within four hours after giving birth. Unused colostrum should be refrigerated quickly and discarded after three days. Frozen colostrum should be discarded after six months.
- Dry cow nutrition. High-straw rations currently popular among dairies can be tied to lower-quality colostrum.
- Overcrowding. High levels of stress due to overcrowding of pre-fresh groups and a lack of feeding space can impact colostrum quality.
- Shorter dry periods. Research shows that colostrum quantity can be significantly lower in a 40-day dry period.
- Breed. Jerseys typically score highest in colostrum IgG levels, Holsteins lowest.
- Weather/temperature extremes can negatively affect colostrum quality.