Get a better return on your colostrum investment when you combine the Perfect Udder® Feeding System with Dairy Tech’s latest colostrum pasteurizer, Matilda®!

A smart veterinarian recently reminded me that there is no silver bullet when it comes to raising a healthy, productive calf. However, getting full value out of your colostrum is pretty darn close. After all, it’s the most important meal of the calf’s life.

The first step in managing this precious commodity is to collect it quickly. For every hour that passes after the calf is born, colostrum quality and immunoglobulin content decrease by 3%. Now, that’s not a very scary number until you think of the common example of a cow calving at quitting time, or a shift change at 10 pm. It is not unrealistic for her to go without being milked until the next morning. Easily 10 hours could have passed, and now the quality of her colostrum has been reduced by a full third.

Why is this important?

A calf is born with an incredibly unique set of cells lining its small intestine that are capable of fully absorbing the large immunoglobulin (Ig) molecules and then depositing them into the bloodstream. Without these immunoglobulins, the new baby has no immune system to combat bacterial, viral and parasite challenges. This process is called Passive Transfer and life for the calf depends on this wholesale stockpiling of nutrients and immune factors. This has to happen quickly because these cells are only open for a short time. The intestine is most receptive during the first few hours after birth and steadily declines to nearly 0 at 24 hours after birth. By the end of that first day, the specialized cells are replaced with normal epithelial cells and the opportunity for absorption of Ig and other immune factors is mostly gone. Time is of the essence.

Despite the nutrition and health benefits, colostrum can also transfer risk from the cow to the calf. That is why the second step is to make sure the colostrum is clean and pathogen-free because the very same unique cells that allow the large Ig molecules to pass through to the bloodstream can also put the calf at risk if there are pathogenic bacteria and viruses present at the same time.

Colostrum left sitting in a bucket for a couple of hours is a perfect environment for bacteria growth, and at room temperature, those bacteria will double in number every 20 minutes. In a short amount of time, good colostrum can turn infectious or even deadly to the calf.

Pathogens find their way into the colostrum by being secreted in the udder; by contamination during collection or storage; or by the instruments used to feed the calf. Fortunately, published research has shown that pasteurization (heat treatment) of colostrum at 60° C for 60 minutes significantly reduces or eliminates these pathogens. By reducing the number of pathogens in heat-treated colostrum, we reduce the number of pathogens in the intestine. This leaves more Ig antibodies free for absorption.

Are There Really Bugs in My Colostrum?

Here is a list of pathogens that can commonly be found secreted into the colostrum when the cow herself is carrying these diseases:

  • Mycobacterium avium subsp. Paratuberculosis (Johne’s)
  • Mycoplasma spp.
  • Salmonella spp.
  • Listeria monocytogenes
  • Escherichia coli
  • Campylobacter spp.
  • Staphylococcus aureus

In a Minnesota study, 24-hour serum IgG was 22.3 mg/ml in calves fed pasteurized colostrum compared to 18.1 mg/ml in calves fed raw colostrum. This difference was significant. This study has been replicated two times with similar results, proving the benefits of heat treatment of colostrum to eliminate bacteria and other pathogens. Higher levels of immunoglobulins in the serum mean that the calf is better protected against infections.

How Much Colostrum Does a Calf Need?

Research shows us that when we feed the calf colostrum equal to 15% of its body weight, we can expect:

  • Much Lower Veterinary Costs
  • Lower Morbidity & Mortality
  • Dramatic Increase in Milk Production… in First & Second Lactations

One study conducted by the Department of Animal Sciences, University of Arizona (Faber et al., 2005) looked at the simple difference between feeding 2L of colostrum vs 4L of colostrum. The result supported all of these benefits including 1500 more pounds of milk in each lactation.

Colostrum is More Than Just Immunity.

In addition to immune factors, colostrum contains superb nutrition, hormones, growth factors, enzymes, and many additional compounds, which affect the lifetime performance of the calf.

Epigenetics is the word used to describe the phenomenon resulting when outside influences have an impact on gene expression without involving changes to the actual DNA sequence itself. It is how the stuff around us influences what genes we will express.

Air quality, chemicals in the environment, the nutritional quality of feed, toxins, vaccines, and a thousand other biases act upon the rapidly developing fetus and newborn animal to manipulate the expression of genes. When everything is going in the right direction, the alterations allow the animal to thrive. If there are deficiencies and stresses, the regulation either does not occur or manifests itself in a negative manner. In this instance, what we have commonly referred to as “genetic potential” is lost forever. This very concept of having an opportunity to realize the full potential of the animal at a very young age is what prompts the theory that we can NEVER regain the opportunity that we have in the first 8 weeks of the animal’s life to impact its lifetime health and productivity.

In calves, we call this the Lactocrine Hypothesis. The lactocrine hypothesis “describes the effect of milk-borne factors, including colostrum in this definition, on the epigenetic development of specific tissues or physiological functions…” (Soberon et al., 2012). Simply put, the factors in colostrum can permanently impact future performance and milk production.

When we consider the types of factors in colostrum, the picture quickly comes into focus. Here is a simple chart showing levels of a few factors in colostrum compared to their relative levels in normal milk.

Steroids and hormones top the list. Protein is nearly 3X that of normal milk and vitamins are often 6-10X higher. Sound like the diet of any bodybuilders and professional athletes that you know? There is a reason for that … it works.

Specifically, we see a dramatic impact on the development of the gastrointestinal tract … the gut! This simple tube, from the mouth to the other end, is responsible for some pretty spectacular functions. From absorption of nutrients to protection from the horrible things we can sometimes digest, the gut must be ready at all times.

Imagine the power of an intestinal tract that is twice as robust and healthy. Disease tolerance? Ability to absorb nutrients at a higher rate? Better hydration? Aren’t all of these functions likely to be improved? How do we explain cows with the same breeding, but completely different capabilities? These ideas we are discussing here are a large part of that story.

So, the importance of feeding a newborn calf the correct amount of high quality, pathogen-free colostrum as soon after birth as possible becomes obvious. However, to help prevent exposure to pathogens, the common practice is to separate the calf from the cow immediately after birth. How do we satisfy all of these demands?

Develop a Colostrum Bank

The word “bank” is certainly appropriate given the value that colostrum carries for the calf. Banking your colostrum keeps a readily available supply on hand at all times. But, how do you create an employee-friendly system that makes it easy to “deposit” and “withdraw” pasteurized colostrum as needed, and also ensures each calf receives the correct amount at the right time?

You use the Perfect Udder® Feeding System and a Matilda® by Dairy Tech, Inc.

Perfect Udder® is the specialized aluminum bag that allows for quick heat transfer for both cooling (important for preventing bacterial growth) and heating (both pasteurization and warming to feed). This simple, but the unique design allows raw colostrum to be collected, pasteurized, cooled, stored, warmed and then fed to the calf all from the same, single-use, biosecure bag.

Matilda® is the newest member of Dairy Tech’s Perfect Udder® herd. She is specifically engineered to maximize the efficiency of Perfect Udder® bags using Dairy Tech’s proven pasteurization technology. At half the price of any competitive product on the market, pasteurizing and warming your valuable colostrum has never been easier or more cost-effective.

By combining these two, colostrum can be commingled, if necessary. Since we are pasteurizing it, we are not as concerned with colostrum being a source of new infections and we can focus on other biosecurity measures around the youngstock. Treated colostrum can be refrigerated if used within 24-48 hours but is generally frozen to avoid rotation concerns. Frozen colostrum retains most of its value for extended periods of time, even up to a year.

How the Perfect Udder® Colostrum Management System Works

When a calf is born

  • WARM: A bag is removed from the bank, placed into Matilda® and then warmed to the perfect feeding temperature. The size of the bag is chosen depending on the size of the calf and the number of feedings in your particular protocols. For example, an average Holstein calf requires 4L of colostrum to equal 10% of its body weight. In 8-10 hours, the second dose of 2L is heated and fed to the calf to provide the full 15% of body weight. There are also 3L bags for smaller calves and for various feeding protocols.
  • FEED: The entire bag of colostrum is then fed directly to the calf via an attached tube or nipple. No cleanup.
  • COLLECT: Afterwards, the cow is milked within an hour or two of calving, and now her colostrum is placed into a new Perfect Udder® bag.
  • PASTEURIZE: Each bag of colostrum is placed into Matilda® and pasteurized at 60°C for 60 Minutes.
  • STORE: After being pasteurized, the colostrum is rapidly cooled down and then “deposited” into the bank to be ready for the next calf.

Economics of Colostrum Management

Sure, all of this sounds great, but if only the largest dairies can afford it then what is the point? The average cost per calf using the Perfect Udder® Colostrum Management System including Matilda® starts as low as $6 per calf.

Points to Consider:

  • What is the cost of one round of antibiotics? ROI is instant
  • What is the value of 1500lbs of milk? ROI is 50-60X
  • What is the value of a live calf? ROI = 25X
  • What is the value of reduced disease on your farm? Depends on what battles you face, but the impact of total colostrum management and breaking link from dam to calf is priceless.
  • What is the value of implementing a system that new employees can be taught in minutes and be monitored with ease?

For most dairies, this is the most valuable ROI of all.