Q. How would I use a Brix Refractometer to Measure Colostrum Quality?

A. The Brix scale was traditionally used to measure the percent of sugar in a solution.  Brix refractometers have been used to measure sugar concentration in fluids of wine, fruit juice and honey.   Recently the brix refractometer is being used on the farm to measure colostrum quality.

First some background information about what we are measuring.  In order to ensure adequate transfer of antibody to the calf, the industry has the goal of 150 grams of IgG should be fed to the calf in the first feeding of colostrum.  So if we assume a calf is fed 3 liters of colostrum, we want that colostrum to have at least 50 grams per liter of IgG.

Most calf raisers are familiar with the use of a colostrometer to check the quality of colostrum.  The colostrometer measures the specific gravity; the colostrometer is placed in a cylinder containing colostrum and floats at a level dependent on the specific gravity of the colostrum (green is colostrum greater than 50 grams/liter, yellow is 20 to 50 grams/liter and red is less than 20 grams/liter).  The problem is that the colostrometer should be read at room temperature (72F) and it is fragile.

Brix scale refractometers perform as well as a colostrometer plus are very convenient to use, not influenced by temperature and not as fragile.  To use, just place a few drops of colostrum on the prism and lower the sample cover, hold it up to a light source and the Brix value is read at the line between the light and dark areas that appear on the scale.  Digital models are available that are easier to use compared to the optical refractometer.  The high fat content of colostrum often causes blurred band, rather than a distinct line; digital refractometers seem to be able to read these high-fat samples accurately.  A reading of 22% on the Brix scale is equal to 50 grams per liter of IgG.  The goal would be to get 3 liters (3 liters X 50 grams IgG per liter = 150 grams of IgG) of that quality colostrum into the newborn ASAP.

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