Editor's Note: The following information is a "Tip of the Week" from the Dairy Calf & Heifer Association. Consider adding it to the training manual that you give to new calf care providers on your dairy or heifer-growing operation.
The first 24 hours is very crucial for calves since they are born without immunity against disease. Good colostrum management is essential to maintain health and prevent infections.
What is colostrum? Colostrum is the first secretion produced by the mammary gland after calving. Good-quality colostrum is thick and creamy in appearance. It is rich in fat and protein and contains immunity elements. Colostrum provides the disease-fighting antibodies calves are born without.
How to collect colostrum? The cow's teats should be washed before collecting colostrum. Likewise, it is important to wash your hands before the collection process. Clean and disinfect colostrum collection equipment, feeding bottles, nipples, or tubes after each use.
When should colostrum be fed? Once the colostrum is collected, it needs to be fed to the calf immediately after birth. DCHA Gold Standards recommend colostrum feeding equal 10 percent of calf body weight in the first 4 hours of life. A calf's ability to absorb antibodies decreases with each passing hour after birth. As a result, colostrum delivery can affect the health and productivity of dairy calves for their entire lives.
DCHA Gold Standards III recommend having a trained staff member perform esophageal tube feeding, if this is the method being used.
Colostrum collection, handling and feeding should result in adequate levels of immunity for the environment in which the calves are being reared. This can be assessed by how well the calves meet the standards for mortality, morbidity and growth described in the DCHA Gold Standards I.
The following reading material provides more detailed information on colostrum management: