Four questions to ask prior to purchasing a colostrum replacer

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Feeding clean high quality maternal colostrum is considered the gold standard for getting proper nutrients and antibodies into newborn calves. However, accessing maternal colostrum that is both high in IgG and low in bacterial counts can be a challenge on many dairy operations for a variety of reasons.

In situations where access to quality colostrum is not feasible, a quality colostrum replacer can provide a healthy alternative. However, making a decision on what type of colostrum replacer to purchase can be a daunting task. “The easiest decision sometimes is to simply buy the product with the lowest price,” says Jason Leonard, calf and heifer specialist with Purina Animal Nutrition. “However, it is in the calf and dairy’s best interest to make a more informed decision when deciding which colostrum replacer to use.

“Calves born today represent the future of every herd. The decisions made at birth are critical to a calf’s survival and subsequent contribution to the herd’s future profitability,” notes Leonard.  

Leonard advises calf managers to ask a few important questions prior to making a colostrum replacer purchasing decision.

  1. Is this product a true colostrum replacement or is it a colostrum supplement?
    Although very similar, it is important to note the difference between a colostrum replacer and a colostrum supplement. A colostrum replacer is designed to be fed as the calf’s only source of colostrum in the event that no high quality colostrum is available (ex. dam is Johne’s positive). A colostrum replacer can also be used as a booster for the dam’s colostrum by using a fraction of the full dose. A colostrum supplement on the other hand is designed to boost the quality of on-farm colostrum collected.

  2. Is the product made from real bovine colostrum or is it made from blood serum collected at slaughter houses?
    Products listed as real colostrum are just that, they contain colostrum collected from dairy cattle that has been dried down and heat-treated to eliminate any harmful agents such as Johne’s disease and mycoplasma. Serum products are essentially built from the ground up using collected blood as the source of antibodies for the calf. These products can be effective in transferring immunity to the calf, but Leonard notes that they can be short on soluble factors and maternal cells that are present in maternal colostrum.  The calf depends on these other factors and cells to create an immune response that will last until the calf’s own immune system starts working. Some studies have shown greater feed efficiency through 30 days of age when calves were fed a maternal colostrum instead of a serum-based replacer.1 Serum replacers lack colostral fat, which is very energy-dense and is well digested by the calf. Serum products typically use animal fat or vegetable fat which are less digestible.

  3. Is the product labeled with a claim for Bovine IgG or just globulin proteins?
    IgG, more specifically IgG1, are the actual antibodies that protect the young calf from pathogens that may cause scours and respiratory diseases. Leonard recommends that calves receive at least 100 grams of IgG to receive adequate immunity from the colostrum. Alternatively, globulin proteins are comprised of a variety of other proteins as well as the IgG antibodies. It is nearly impossible to know what percentage of the globulin protein is IgG by looking at the package. So, a product could be labeled as providing 130 grams of globulin protein but may contain much less than the crucial 100 grams of IgG that are needed by the calf.  “Don’t let the number on the package be the deciding factor in your buying decision unless the number guarantees a specific IgG level,” says Leonard.

  4. Is the product licensed by the USDA as a total replacement for maternal colostrum?
    “There is no way of guaranteeing the potency or effectiveness of a product unless it is licensed by the USDA,” says Leonard. Some serum-based replacers will use blood from USDA-certified slaughter houses. The pitfall with this method, Leonard says, is that the replacer product containing this blood has never been tested by the USDA for effectiveness in transferring immunity to calves.

Leonard strongly recommends purchasing a colostrum replacer that is USDA-licensed as a colostrum replacement to ensure calves are getting the crucial energy and antibodies they need the first 12 hours of life. 

All colostrum replacers are not created equal, but paying closer attention to the product details and making a more informed purchasing decision should help lead you to the colostrum replacer product that is suited best for your operation. “Your decision is an important one because you only get one chance to start a calf off on the right foot (or in this case hoof),” adds Leonard.    

For more information, contact Jason Leonard at (717) 360-3473, email: JRLeonard@landolakes.com or go to: www.amplicalf.com.


1 C.M. Jones, R.E. James, J.D. Quigley, III, and M.L. Gilliard. Influence of Pooled Colostrum or Colostrum Replacement on IgG and Evaluation of Animal Plasma in Milk Replacer, Journal of Dairy Science, Volume 87, Pages 1806-1814, 2004.


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