Bacterial cultures are the “gold standard” for determining the cleanliness of colostrum, says Sam Leadley, calf and heifer management specialist with Attica Veterinary Associates, in Attica, N.Y.

An analysis of colostrum samples collected from farms in both Canada and the U.S. suggests that colostrum is all too often a “bacteria soup” before it reaches the calf’s mouth.

“About two-thirds of colostrum samples collected had culture results that were above accepted levels for good calf health,” Leadley says.

According to the Dairy Calf & Heifer Association’s Gold Standards I for Holstein calves less than 6 months of age, a standard plate count of bacteria in colostrum should not exceed 100,000 cfu/mL (colony forming units of bacteria per milliliter of colostrum).

High bacteria counts translate into calf diarrhea or scours, and can be indicative of how severe or fatal a case of scours will be.

Poor teat-end preparation, contaminated “dump” buckets and dirty nursing bottles or esophageal feeders are three entry points for bacteria to “inoculate” colostrum. To prevent contamination, follow this advice from Leadley:

  • Use a two-step teat preparation routine: Dip, wait 30 seconds, wipe, then dip again. Wait 30 seconds, wipe and scrub across the teat end.
  • Use a stainless steel “dump” bucket to collect colostrum. Click here for a list of recommended hygiene procedures for washing colostrum collection equipment.
  • Use only clean nursing bottles and esophageal tube feeders. Follow the cleaning guidelines recommended for colostrum dump buckets.

“Avoiding each of the three sites of inoculation is a huge step in providing clean, wholesome colostrum to newborn calves,” Leadley says.

This tip is brought to you by the national beef checkoff, which supports quality-control practices that enhance the safety and wholesomeness of milk and meat products from America’s dairy farms.