How important is Colostrum first 6 hours?

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Jeanne - Simme Valley

Well-known member
Dec 9, 2004
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Central Upstate New York
CattleNetwork article:
Cow Calf: Passive Immune Status Within 24 Hours Of Birth

You have heard the warning: "What happens in Las Vegas, stays in Las Vegas!!!" Perhaps you have not heard: "What happens in the first 24 hours, impacts the rest of a calf's life"! Veterinary scientists, while with the USDA experiment station at Clay Center, Nebraska monitored health events and growth performance in a population of range beef calves in order to identify associations of production factors with baby calf passive immune status.

Blood samples were collected at 24 hours after calving from 263 crossbred calves to determine the amount of passive maternal immunity that had been obtained from colostrum. Colostrum is the first milk produced by a cow upon giving birth. The baby calves were classified with "Inadequate" or "Adequate" Passive Immune status based on that blood sample at 24 hours of age. Growth performance and health events in the study population were monitored from birth to weaning, and after weaning throughout the feedlot phase.

The lowest levels of passive immunity were observed among calves that were sick or died prior to weaning. Calves with "inadequate" passive immunity had a 5.4 times greater risk of death prior to weaning, 6.4 times greater risk of being sick during the first 28 days of life, and 3.2 times greater risk of being sick any time prior to weaning when compared to calves with "adequate" passive transfer. Based on 24 hour proteins (most of which are antibodies or immunoglobulins) in the blood, the risk of being sick in the feedlot was also three times greater for "Inadequate" compared to "Adequate" calves. Passive immune status was also indirectly associated with growth rates through its effects on calf health. Sickness during the first 28 days of life was associated with a 35 pound lower expected weaning weight. Respiratory disease in the feedlot resulted in a .09 lb lower expected average daily gain.

Thus, passive immunity obtained from colostrum was an important factor determining the health of calves both pre- and post-weaning, and indirectly influenced calf growth rate during the same periods. Therefore, the cow calf producers can help themselves and the future owners of their calves, by properly growing replacement heifers, providing a good health program for cows and heifers, and providing natural or commercial colostrum replacers to calves that do not receive it in adequate quantities on their own. Remember that most of the transfer of antibodies from colostrum to the calf happens in the first 6 hours. The first day sets the stage for the rest of his life. (Source: Wittum and Perino. 1995. Amer. Jour. Of Vet. Research. 56:1149.)

Source: Glenn Selk, OSU Extension Cattle Reproduction Specialist
Yep, good post Jeanne.
I think without a doubt, that a calf getting that colostrum is THE single most important factor in health and development.
Great post. I have a question...I am thinking of buying day old Holstein calves from an auction and since I won't know whether or not they have received there a good colostrom replacer I can get to give to them immediately?
If you can;t get any from a cow the powdered ones work better then nothing. It may not do any good because of the calfs age when you get them home, but it can;t hurt anything but your wallet.
jonbri55":ogj3p2jz said:
Great post. I have a question...I am thinking of buying day old Holstein calves from an auction and since I won't know whether or not they have received there a good colostrom replacer I can get to give to them immediately?

Any auction is a big risk, especially if it's a salebarn. I personally wouldn't do it because of the potential for disease. Bottle calves are a lot of work also. If you have never done this kind of thing before, start with just one or two, because you just might find the job don't fit you too well. Good luck
It's actually illegal to sell calves less than 4 days old in NZ - I guess it's not over there?
Two reasons I think - they're not considered fit for transport until navels are dry and they're supposed to not transition onto milk until four days - the buyer often doesn't have easy access to a supply of colostrum (I've never seen powdered colostrum for sale here, be a good thing to keep handy if it was available).

Srsly, if you want those calves find a farmer and get them direct, look at his other calves (no scours or navel ill, clean housing, been given colostrum). In Britain or NZ, out of courtesy most dairy farmers will give the buyer a supply of colostrum if they're selling (illegally of course) a calf under four days old.
Colostrum is a good food product at 1 - 4 days. But the antibody effect is only effective for the first day. They've done the inadequate/adequate assessments over here and I think less than half of all dairy calves achieve protective levels considered adequate. I don't think my farm is any different, but I've raised 100% the last three years (28, 39, 47 from birth to weaning). I'd have to say though that rearing calves born on farm was a whole different (blissful!) experience compared to rearing bought-in calves the previous two years. I'm not too sure why.
Yes, the antibodies in colostrum are pretty large molecules, not absorbable into the gut of older animals without being digested and torn apart. Right after birth, the gut is more porous, and closes up pretty soon. Another fascinating mechanism of life.
I like the brand name LIFE-line. Had an article in my newsletter a few years ago, comparing the different brands & this one rose to the top.
It IS great to have a bag around all during calving. No thawing out, heating up frozen colostrum at nasty hours of the night (don't you always have your worse problems at night???)
Frozen colostrum from your OWN herd is absolutely the best - but --- powder is REAL EASY!
Be careful feeding full dose colostrum after 1 day old. Remember, it IS a laxative also.
I would also strongly recommend going direct to a farmer. Even if the calves cost twice as much, dead calves don't make you any money, and a newborn from the sale barn is looking for a place to die - worse than sheep! You will be surprised how much money you will tie up real quick if even ONE gets sick and you SAVE IT. And, once a calf has gotten sick, research has proven they never perform as well as their contemporaries that did not get sick.
I really don't want to buy from a sale barn but don't know of anyone around that has calves for sale. I usually raise 2-3 every year-I search the nickel papers for someone who has already bought them from a sale barn and is re-selling them. Thought I'd try to cut out the middle man. I know it's risky...Anyone within 100 miles of Spokane WA out there selling calves??? By the way, thanks Jeanne for the tip on the colostrum.
I really don't want to buy from a sale barn but don't know of anyone around that has calves for sale.

Friendly introduction of yourself to a local dairy farmer?
At calving time I usually have 4 - 5 saleable calves at any one time, but no market for them. They go for $5 - 20 on the veal truck.
All an interested purchaser would have to do is disinfect his boots on arrival and promise to look after them...
If your local guy doesn't have any, he may well know of someone who has.

Or yay, someone local might reply.
If all else fails go to the sale barn early and see who brings the day old calves in. Talk to them. They will usually be glad to sell to you at the farm.
kenny thomas":24is2q5t said:
If all else fails go to the sale barn early and see who brings the day old calves in. Talk to them. They will usually be glad to sell to you at the farm.
That's what I was going to point out. If there are newborns at the sale barn, someone is bringing them there. Go DIRECT. Seller would much rather sell direct. Probably a professional trucker is hauling them, but if you're nice they are usually helpful.
I have used the powdred colostrum, it works real well, it was not available until recently, apparently what they had before a couple years ago was colostrum replacer that was a decent compromise. I was warned about getting colostrum from other herds, especially dairys because of the chance of contracting Jhones disease into your herd. Has anyone else herd of this? For the past 3 years I have been doing a annual Jhones testing because the USDA is reporting it becoming more prevelent in beef herds then it had been in the past. I bought a bull last year from another Jhones free herd. At the sale barn near my place there are alot of those Jhones diseased Holsteins going through the sale barn, I am for sure thinking the calves are getting exposed to some of it.
Years ago, all the extension personnel & written articles would tell the beef producers to keep colostrum on hand for calving time. "Go to your neighbor dairyman & you can get a fresh supply there". THAT information was the worse thing we could do. (And yes, I used to do that - and yes, I have tested our herd several times - clean, thank goodness!).
The absolute BEST thing is to get some colostrum from a few of your older cows that calve early & freeze it in small containers. NOTHING beats your own herds colostrum. Each "herd" has it's own set of immunity "bugs" - through exposed diseases & vaccinations. As good as the new store bought powdered colostrum is, it still is not UNICQUE to the "bugs" your cows are carrying.
But, having said all that, I use the powder colostrum more often than not. It's quicker & easier. If I have a calf that isn't sucking mom by 2nd feeding, I will thaw out the "real stuff".
Jeanne, so when you get the colostrum milk from your own cows what is the process - i.e. - do you milk a teat that the calf has not suckeled on? - how long do you have to get it? - how long will it store frozen? Do your cows stand for you or do you hoble them or something - mine are not too much fun to milk - I bought as set of hock hobbles from a local tack store last time I did it.
After newborn has sucked, we put the cow in the chute & milk her out - our mature cows always have way more than calf can drink. We actually use teat tubes. You put one in each teat & the colostrum just flows out into a bucket we hold. Generally we get most of it from the quarters unsucked.
If they are not willing to stand quietly, we put a rope around them, in front of the hip bones down around in front of the udder, pull TIGHT with a slip knot. A cow can't kick because it pinches some nerves. BUT, if she fights it real bad, she can fall down because she doesn't have good use of both hind legs, so you must be ready to release the rope. We use the same rope system if we need to help a calf suck.
The sooner the better. Remember, colostrum is AGING (losing quality) in the bag. You can keep it several days in the frig (stir it daily). or just freeze in small containers. I used to put it in freezer bags - but "sometimes" the bags crack and when you're floating it in hot water, you can lose the colostrum. If you use freezer bags, just be sure to double bag it when you thaw it.
I use a double boiler system. Big pan of water with smaller pan of water inside of it, and frozen colo floating in it. Don't be in a hurry - takes a while, that's why SMALL containers is best.
Jeanne,I meant to tell you earlier great post. People just don't realize time is the essence when dealing with colostrum. My calves are given no later than 15-30 minutes to start sucking. I tube a qt. of colostrum to start and then I wait and watch. Most of the time I don't have to tube again. Atleast I know I got colostrum in that calf before the problem starts.
Joy, I'm not that quick to jump in but I don't wait long.
The new "modern" Simmental's are such a pleasure to calve out compared to the "old days". We never realized how much work they were - big lazy calves. These 70-90 pounders get spit out, jump out & on the teat in no time. Rare I intervere at all anymore. Sure do love it.
Thanks, good advice about checking out the sale barn early to find out where the calves came from. I just might have to do that. I have goats that will kid soon-I think I will milk them after they do for the colostrom-I forgot about that!

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