Written by Dr. Vicky Lauer, Professional Services Veterinarian at ANIMART
Humans are at a considerable advantage when they enter the world. Babies receive antibodies through the placenta before birth, which neutralize harmful bacteria and viruses and provide immediate protection. Unfortunately, antibodies can’t pass through the cow’s placenta so colostrum is the only source of antibodies available for calves. Clean, timely colostrum administration is vital to calf health and wellness.
Colostrum must be harvested cleanly and as soon as possible after birth to ensure a high level of antibodies. If colostrum is contaminated with manure, the calf absorbs pathogens directly into the bloodstream along with the antibodies. Antibodies bind to the pathogens, leaving fewer antibodies for later protection. Therefore dirty colostrum not only decreases the colostrum quality, it also predisposes the calf to blood poisoning, illness and death.
To monitor colostrum cleanliness, routinely test the bacterial count of colostrum samples right before feeding. The recommended total bacterial count of raw colostrum is less than 50,000 colony-forming units per milliliter (CFU/mL) for maximum effectiveness and absorption. If colostrum is heat-treated, the total bacteria count shouldn’t exceed 20,000 CFU/mL. If bacterial counts are consistently higher, scrutinize the entire colostrum harvesting and feeding process. Test multiple colostrum samples taken throughout the milking and calf feeding routine to see where the breakdown in cleanliness is occurring. Important steps to evaluate are the milking routine and unit, colostrum collection pails and calf feeding equipment. An ATP meter can rapidly identify dirty equipment as well.
Devoting extra time to colostrum cleanliness will equip the calf for a lifetime of success.
Do you have questions or comments about colostrum feeding and calf health? Submit your questions and comments. We’d love to hear from you.