Best Practices for Proper Colostrum Management

It’s More Than Just Immunity

Unlike many other mammals, immunoglobulins do not cross the placenta of cows to reach the fetus during development; therefore, the newborn calf has no immunity at birth. It must rely on antibodies obtained through ingestion of colostrum. Maternal colostrum provides the main source of immunoglobulins (Ig), important nutrients and growth factors for the newborn calf. If the calf fails to absorb enough immunoglobulins into its blood within the first 24 hours of life, we call this Failure of Passive Transfer (FPT). These calves are susceptible to more infections and life-long diseases than calves with Adequate Passive Transfer.

Cows stressed by environment1, overcrowding, poor nutrition2, or inadequate vaccination will produce lower quality colostrum. The chances of FPT increase significantly if colostrum quality, quantity and time of the calf’s first feeding are not optimal3. An elevated bacterial load will reduce the ability of the calf’s intestine to absorb immunoglobulins from colostrum. That is why it is so crucial to eliminate the pathogens by heat treating the colostrum. This improves absorption while preventing spread of diseases in the herd.

This guide will help to remind calf attendants about the critical steps required to deliver a healthy calf with a healthy immune system.

Deliver the Calf

If time allows, begin warming a bag of colostrum so that is will be ready when the calf is born.

  1. Restrain the cow so she can be released quickly if she falls down
  2. Make certain the delivery area is CLEAN for both cow and calf with good footing for the cow
  3. CLEAN the vulva. Wear gloves.
    • Wipe manure from area with a disposable towel.
    • Scrub the vulva with water and disinfectant until a thick heavy foam is present.
  4. Always wear CLEAN shoulder length OB sleeves and replace if they become torn.
  5. Liberally apply lubricant in the cow’s birth canal before attempting to deliver the calf.4

Determine the position of the calf. Normal presentation is front feet and head first with the back up. Always make sure of the position by checking the joints on the calf leg as seen in the pictures. Position the calf as shown here and call for assistance if this is not possible.

Normal

  • Two Feet Out
  • Soles Down
  • Head Following

Abnormal

  1. Attach the calf straps as shown.
  2. Deliver the calf with a single person using a calf jack, or with two people pulling by hand.

Call your Veterinarian when:

  • The calf cannot be turned to a normal delivery position
  • The calf cannot be delivered within 30 minutes

  1. Place calf in sternal position, as shown, on a clean, dry surface.
  2. Clear nose of membranes and fluids by lowering the head … NEVER hang the calf upside down as this puts pressure on lungs and prevents them from inflating.
  3. Stimulate breathing:
    • Tickle calf’s nose with piece of clean straw.
    • Pour a small amount of water into calf’s ear.
    • Respiratory stimulants prescribed by your veterinarian.
    • Rub calf vigorously with CLEAN towel to also stimulate breathing and to dry the calf.

  1. Use 7% Tincture of Iodine and cover navel completely5 
  2. Keep the iodine dip cup cleaned regularly
  3. Separate the calf from the cow IMMEDIATELY

Feed the Calf

  1. Feed the calf within 60 minutes or sooner if possible.

  2. Always wear gloves or clean hands when feeding newborns

  3. Choose 3L Perfect Udder® for a calf <66lbs/30kg and 4L Perfect Udder® for a calf >66lbs/30kg.

  1. Be careful to not exceed 140°F (60°C) with the water bath to reheat colostrum. Significant damage can occur to the immunoglobulins above these temperatures. Matilda® is specifically designed to carefully, but quickly, warm colostrum so that it is ready for feeding to the calf immediately following birth. Please remember that warming time depends on whether the colostrum is Frozen or Refrigerated and how many bags of colostrum you are warming.
  2. Check the temperature of the colostrum with a thermometer or by testing on sensitive skin such as the wrist. The goal is 90-110°F (32°C – 43°C) with no remaining pieces of frozen colostrum in the bag.
    1. Temp < 90°F/32°C will be absorbed more poorly
    2. Temp >110°F/43°C may cause burns or irritation to the esophagus
  3. Remember, absorption of the colostrum is greatly influenced by the temperature.
  1. Thread a FeedTube onto the Perfect Udder® bag.
  2. Fold the bag over, or use the clamp on the FeedTube DX, to prevent the flow of colostrum until the tube is fully inserted into the calf.
  3. Perform with the calf standing in a corner or sternal. While placing FeedTube, do not overextend the neck of the calf. Insert FeedTube with head in a normal position. The bulb of theFeedTube is specially designed to resist entry into the trachea.
  4. Palpate the neck of the calf as the FeedTube is being inserted. Feeling the bulb passing under your fingers indicates proper placement of the FeedTube. If there is any uncertainty, ask your veterinarian for training.
  5. Insert the full length of the FeedTube until the cap is at the lips of the calf, then release clamp as necessary and raise bag to initiate flow. If using a FeedTube DX, close the clamp tightly before inserting the rigid portion of the FeedTube as described above. Once inserted, release the clamp for flow of product.
  6. Allow entire contents to quickly flow into the calf. When all flow has stopped, lower the head of the calf and remove the FeedTube in a downward direction to prevent any spilling of colostrum at the trachea entrance.

We now also carry a smaller diameter tube for calves weighing less than 60lbs (27kgs). Always palpate the side of the neck as shown in our video. “If you can Feel it, you can Feed it” 

  1. Always make sure nipple is clean and the nipple opening is not too large.
  2. Replace nipples often with each new case of Perfect Udder® bags.
  3. While the cap is on the bag insert the bag into the Bag Caddie for easy carrying and delivery to the calf.
  4. Use patience and make sure that the calf ingests the entire dose. If there is colostrum that the calf will not nurse, then it must be tubed into the calf to complete the dose.
  1. Record the date and time that the pasteurized colostrum was administered to each calf. 
  2. Separate and clean the nipple assembly and thoroughly clean tubes, inspecting for rough edges and replace as needed.

Research suggests that a 2L second feeding of colostrum within 8 – 12 hours of birth may result in improved health and lifetime production benefits for the calf.6 Handle in the same manner as the initial feeding and record on calf record. The second feeding of colostrum is just as critical as the first. 

The intestinal cells of the calf are still prone to rapid infection by bacteria until they have been replaced by normal cells at 24 hours of age. For this reason, be sure the second feeding and possibly the third are heat treated to kill pathogens. A combination of 10% body weight at colostrum first feeding and 5% body weight for the second colostrum feeding can result in serum levels of Immunoglobulin that will most certainly achieve adequate passive transfer in the calf.  

Discard all Packaging as this Biosecure Product is Single Use and Cannot Be Reused.

Colostrum is very high in fat and protein content which makes it nearly impossible to clean from surfaces. Use of plastic bottles is discouraged for this reason. This also saves on the labor and cost of chemicals used to try to clean bottles.7

Perfect Udder® bags are intended to be used one time and then discarded or recycled.

Similarly, the nipples and esophageal tubes are difficult to clean. This is the reason that each new kit of Perfect Udder® bags comes with a new set of your favored feeding attachment. This limits the number of times that these devices will be used and therefore cuts down on contamination to the calf.

  • Recycling laws and opportunities change with each location. 
  • The bag material is heat conducting vs. all other materials that are insulating. Thus our success. 
  • The esophageal tubes can be recycled as polyethylene.

Collect the Colostrum

  1. Within 1-6 hrs of birth.
  2. Quality decreases 3% per hour due to reabsorption and dilution within the mammary gland. In 12 hrs it is down 36%.

Udder Prep requires special attention because the teats have not been cleaned in 60 day.

  1. Predip and strip each quarter to check for mastitis and blood
  2. Wait 45 seconds and then wipe clean with towel
  3. Attach milker unit and collect colostrum into vacuum bucket
  4. Post dip teats after milking
  1. Use complete CIP (Cleaning in Place) system when milking in the parlor.
  2. If using a detached milker use standard parlor cleaning procedures and do not neglect this important step on the machine that will milk all fresh cows.
  3. Colostrum buckets should also be cleaned thoroughly with hot water and detergent, followed by final rinse and non-acidic disinfectant spray.
  1. Use a Brix refractometer and follow manufacturer’s instructions to clean and calibrate the instrument regularly. Colostrum with a Brix reading >22 is considered high quality to be used for the calves.8
  2. Colostrometers can also be used to determine the quality. These instruments are temperature sensitive and colostrum must be very near 20°C/72°F. Fill the test tube and gently insert the glass probe. The colostrum level on the densimeter scale indicates quality. Green level indicates the highest quality.

Mark each Perfect Udder® bag with the quality of the batch so that the best can be used for first feedings. Also mark the date of collection on each bag. Always use First-In-First-Out to keep the colostrum storage fresh.

Bacteria in room temperature colostrum double every 20 minutes!

  1. Always keep a lid on colostrum to prevent contamination by flies and dirt.
  2. Use a filter to remove contaminants as well as teat sealants as colostrum is loaded into Perfect Udder® bags
  3. Immediately pasteurize the colostrum – in a batch or Perfect Udder® Bags.
  4. If it is not possible to pasteurize the colostrum immediatly, transfer it into Perfect Udder® bags so it can be rapidly cooled to preserve its quality and minimize bacterial growth.

Pasteurizing & Storing the Colostrum

Most contagious pathogens on the dairy are also going to be shed in colostrum. Pasteurization will eliminate or greatly reduce this risk.9

  1. Colostrum must be pasteurized at 60°C/140°F for 60 minutes in order to destroy pathogens, maintain viscosity of the final product and to preserve the delicate Ig molecules.
  2. Pasteurize as quickly as possible after harvesting colostrum to preserve the quality.
  3. Pasteurization of colostrum will lead to improved absorption of Ig into the calf which in turn results in less sickness, less mortality, better weight gain and more future production.10
  4. Removing pathogens from this first feeding also improves the long term biosecurity of the herd. 11

  1. Cleanly transfer colostrum into the open Perfect Udder® COMBI Pasteurizer and replace lid.
  2. Choose the PASTEURIZE profile from the options menu
  3. The colostrum will automatically heat to 60°C/140°F and hold there for 60 minutes before cooling back to a feeding temperature. 
  4. Use the spout adapter or BagFiller 1B on the exit valve to fill Perfect Udder® bags from the front of the machine.
  5. Then properly label the bags with the date and quality of the colostrum.
  6. Either feed the colostrum immediately or cool the colostrum in the refrigerator or freezer. Do not stack bags until they have cooled completely.
  7. Clean the pasteurizer with a warm water rinse, scrub with hot water and detergent, followed by final rinse and non-acidic disinfectant spray on all surfaces. 
  8. Remove the valve and clean thoroughly after each use.
  1. Fill 2, 3 or 4L Perfect Udder® bags using a BagFiller. Label the bags with the date and quality of the colostrum.
  2. Place filled bags into the waiting water bath of either a
    1. Matilda® Colostrum Pasteurizer & Warmer OR
    2. Perfect Udder® Combi Pasteurizer equipped with a bag guard and filled as a water bath
  3. Choose the PASTEURIZE profile from the options menu
  4. The colostrum inside the Perfect Udder® bags will automatically heat to 60°C/140°F and hold there for 60 minutes before cooling back to a feeding temperature.
    1. Do not try to pasteurize frozen bags of colostrum. You must thaw the bags first.
    2. Rinse the bags and either feed the colostrum immediately or cool the colostrum in the refrigerator or freezer.
    3. Do not stack bags until they have cooled completely.
  5. Clean Matilda® by draining the water bath, rinse, disinfecting scrub and refill twice weekly or as needed when contaminated by spilled colostrum.
  1. Use a secondary thermometer monthly to verify that temperature readings in the equipment are compatible with the digital display.
  2. Culture samples of colostrum to determine starting quality, effectiveness of the pasteurizer and storage conditions.

  1. Raw or pasteurized colostrum can only be refrigerated for 48 hours.
  2. Frozen Colostrum can be stored for up to a year.
  3. Only use quality freezers without automatic defrost to store your frozen colostrum.

Monitoring Colostrum Protocol Effectiveness

  1. Measuring serum total protein gives us an indirect measurement of passive transfer to make certain that we are managing the Quality, Quantity and Quickness of colostrum care and feeding.
  2. Take samples at 1-5 days of age. 
  3. Collect samples from hydrated animals fed within past 2 hours.
  1. Use red-top blood tubes or syringes without anti-coagulants and label with calf number.
  2. Restrain the calf and remove a sample that is 5-6ml.
  3. Centrifuge the samples to separate the serum OR set tubes upside down and allow clot to form and stick to the lid at room temperature. Gently turn tube over after one hour and remove the lid bringing the clot with it.
  4. Place several drops of serum on the refractometer lens.
    1. For handheld refractometers, place sample on the large glass lens before closing the lid.
    2. For automatic refractometers, place the sample on top of the lens cup after cleaning properly with sterile waterTo read the hand-held unit, look through the eyepiece into good light and read the level at the marked line. The automatic units will provide a reading once activated.
  5. To read the hand-held unit, look through the eyepiece into good light and read the level at the marked line. The automatic units will provide a reading once activated.
  1. The range of readings will likely be 4.0 to 7.0
  2. Indication of successful passive transfer is a value >5.5g/dL
  3. 5-5.4g/dL is moderate passive transfer
  4. <5g/dL is considered failure of passive transfer
  5. If the refractometer uses a Brix scale: >7.8% is considered successful passive transfer.
  6. Other factors influence serum total protein. Averages from groups of calves should dictate success of a program and not necessarily individual values.
  1. Avoid sampling dehydrated calves as the values will be falsely elevated.
  2. Allow blood to separate or centrifuge it and only use serum for the test. Avoid taking readings on samples with excess blood as this will also give false elevated readings.

Supplements, Replacers, and Enhances…Oh My

  1. Insufficient supply or low volume
  2. Contaminated supply or disease is known to be present and pasteurization is not available
  3. Colostrum is <22 on Brix Scale
  1. Naïve heifers may not provide colostrum early enough.
  2. Twins – The cow may not have enough colostrum for both calves.
  3. Injury or death of the cow
  4. Severe weather conditions make colostrum status of calf unpredictable.

When in doubt, feed a supplement.

  1. Supplements are usually <60g globulin for times when the baby likely receives some colostrum but there is uncertainty of adequate amounts.
  2. Replacement products usually have >150g globulin protein in order to provide complete passive transfer for the calf for times when the calf is unlikely to receive any colostrum

Both are used to boost the Ig and energy levels.

  1. Enhancer products are normally added to liquid colostrum 
  2. Supplements are normally given separately from the liquid colostrum.

For added biosecurity and ease-of-use, always choose supplements and replacements that are offered in the Perfect Udder® Feeding System

  1. Add warm water to the Fill line,
  2. Shake to mix,
  3. Feed with a tube or nipple.

Then skip the clean up.

  1. Nardone, A., N. Lacetera, U. Bernabucci et al. 1997. Composition of colostrum from dairy heifers exposed to high air temperatures during late pregnancy and the early postpartum period. J. Dairy Sci. 80:838-844
    Stott, G. 1980. Immunoglobulin Absorption inCalf Neonates with Special Considerations of Stress. Journal of Dairy Science. 63:681-688. 
    lson D. P., Papasian C. J. and Ritter R. C. 1980. The effects of cold stress on neonatal calves. II. Absorption of colostral immunoglobulins.Can J Comp Med. Jan 1980; 44(1): 19–23. 
  2. Quigley J. D and Drewy J. J. Nutrient and immunity transfer from cow to calf pre- and postcalving. J Dairy Sci. 1998 Oct;81(10):2779-90
  3. M Energy Metabolism and Thermoregulation in the newborn Calf: Effective of Calving Conditions . Vermorel et A. 1989.  Canadian Journal of Animal Science, Volume 69.
  4. Maarten Drost, DVM. Management of Calving on Large Dairy Farms. College of Veterinary Medicine. University of Florida, Gainesville, FL 
  5. S. Leadley, Attica Veterinary Associates and P. Sojda, Offhaus Farms, Calving Ease – Navels & Newborns, May 2004
  6. Weina Shi. 2014. Influence of Colostrum Feeding Programs on Passive Immunity, Growth Performance and Serum Biochemical Parameters in Holstein Dairy Calves (Thesis). China Agricultural University.
  7. Morril K. M., Conrad E., Lago A., Campbell J, Quigley J. and Tayller H. 2012. Nationwide evaluation of quality and composition of colostrum on dairy farms in the United States. J. Dairy Sci. 95: 3997-4005.
  8. V. Bielmann ,  J. Gillan , N. R. Perkins , A. L. Skidmore , S. Godden  and K. E. Leslie . 2010.  An evaluation of Brix refractometry instruments for measurement of colostrum quality in dairy cattle. J. Dairy Sci. 93 :3713–3721 
  9. Godden, S. McMartin, J. Feirtag, J. Stabel, R. Bey,  S. Goyal,  L. Metzger, J. Fetrow, S. Wells, and H. Chester-Jones.  2006. Heat-Treatment of Bovine Colostrum. II: Effects of Heating Duration on Pathogen Viability and Immunoglobulin G. J. Dairy Sci. 89:3476–3483
  10. J. L. Johnson, S. M. Godden,1 T. Molitor, T. Ames, and D. Hagman. 2007. Effects of Feeding Heat-Treated Colostrum on Passive Transfer of Immune and Nutritional Parameters in Neonatal Dairy Calves. J. Dairy Sci. 90:5189–5198
  11. Fontaine, R.E., Cohen, M.L., Martin, W.T., et al. 1980). Epidemic salmonellosis from cheddar cheese: surveillance and prevention. Am J Epidemiol 111, 247–53.
    Acosta-Martinez, F., Gyles, C. L., and Butler, D. G. Escherichia coli heat-stable enterotoxin in feces and intestines of calves with diarrhea. Am J Vet Res41: 1143—1149, 1980

These informative resources and more are available on our Calfology page