Colostrum is prob­a­bly not what you think it is

NZ Lifestyle Block - - Feature - Source: by John Mo­ran (2012)

Ask most farm­ers and they’ll tell you colostrum is the an­ti­bodyrich milk that a cow pro­duces in the first four days after giv­ing birth. But that’s not true colostrum says vet Rose­mary Milne.

“Milk com­pa­nies make you with­hold the first eight milk­ings from the vat, and this milk is of­ten re­ferred to as ‘colostrum’ but this is mis­lead­ing. Colostrum is truly the very first milk pro­duced by the ud­der from that very first milk­ing. Milk from sub­se­quent milk­ings has a dif­fer­ent com­po­si­tion. By the sec­ond milk­ing it can have ap­prox­i­mately half the an­ti­bod­ies and the an­ti­body lev­els will de­cline fur­ther over time. When we talk about feed­ing colostrum to new­born calves we need to be talk­ing about that first, first milk­ing, not the milk that is pro­duced after that."

The con­fu­sion around true colostrum and what fol­lows (re­ferred to as ‘tran­si­tion milk’) means many calves don’t get the level of an­ti­bod­ies they will re­quire to pro­tect their health in their first few weeks, and there are also sig­nif­i­cant long term ben­e­fits to en­sur­ing suf­fi­cient colostrum in­take (see page 28).

“We are dili­gently giv­ing calves milk that we think is good, that we call ‘colostrum’ but it doesn’t have the level of an­ti­bod­ies that true colostrum has. There is a very small win­dow of 12-24 hours in which calves are able to ab­sorb an­ti­bod­ies and it’s re­ally im­por­tant they get true first milk­ing colostrum which is as rich in an­ti­bod­ies as pos­si­ble.”

When you look at a two year old cow, you might put her good health and pro­duc­tion down to fac­tors like good ge­net­ics, good feed, and good man­age­ment of her growth from birth.

But one of the most cru­cial fac­tors for the on­go­ing health and pro­duc­tion of an adult cow and how much (or how lit­tle) she will have cost you in feed and vet­eri­nary ex­penses over her life­time is down to the very first milk that she con­sumes.

“It’s very in­ter­est­ing,” says Dr Rose­mary Milne, a long-time farm vet who is now a tech­ni­cal ad­vi­sor for MSD An­i­mal Health. “They did a study in the US where they looked at feed­ing calves 2 litres and 4 litres of colostrum (in the 24 hours after birth) and fol­lowed these calves all the way through.

“It made a huge dif­fer­ence to them long-term, in terms of their health and their im­mune sys­tem. In the calves that re­ceived less colostrum, the vet costs were con­sid­er­ably higher, their pro­duc­tion in the first and sec­ond lac­ta­tion was lower and they had a lower av­er­age daily weight gain. This demon­strates that colostrum has a lot of ben­e­fi­cial fac­tors in ad­di­tion to pro­vid­ing an­ti­bod­ies, that we’re only just be­gin­ning to un­der­stand."

Calves are born with no im­mu­nity as they can’t ab­sorb an­ti­bod­ies across the pla­centa like they can with a lot of other nu­tri­ents. In­stead the cow puts an­ti­bod­ies into the colostrum and the calf has to drink that colostrum to get those an­ti­bod­ies.

The an­ti­bod­ies it re­ceives will pro­tect it for at least the first 3-4 weeks of life, help­ing it to with­stand dis­eases in its en­vi­ron­ment, like the pathogens that cause scours, un­til it be­gins to pro­duce enough an­ti­bod­ies to pro­tect it­self. Get­ting colostrum into a calf as soon as pos­si­ble after it’s born is im­por­tant for two rea­sons says Rose­mary. One is the qual­ity of colostrum is at its high­est in the very first milk made by a newly-calved cow (see page 29), but there’s a sec­ond fac­tor.

“The abil­ity of a calf to ab­sorb the an­ti­bod­ies in colostrum de­clines rapidly over the first 12 hours after birth and it’s gone com­pletely within 24 hours. The calf needs to re­ceive suf­fi­cient an­ti­bod­ies from colostrum within the first 6-12 hours, the sooner the bet­ter.”

Beef farm­ers don’t have as many is­sues with colostrum up­take as dairy farm­ers. Beef cows are bred to have good ma­ter­nal in­stincts and will make sure their calf feeds quickly and of­ten. But ev­i­dence shows that calves born to dairy cows do not in­gest suf­fi­cient colostrum by suck­ling alone be­cause the ma­ter­nal ge­net­ics are much weaker. If you are buy­ing in colostrum to feed to new­born calves, or want to test the qual­ity of colostrum your cows are pro­duc­ing, you need a brix re­frac­tome­ter.

“Its costs be­tween $50-$100,” says Rose­mary. “You pop a drop of colostrum on and read a mea­sure and if it’s above 22% it’s good qual­ity, if it’s below 22% then it’s poor qual­ity. Know­ing that will in­flu­ence you in how much you feed them, and also can in­di­cate whether you are get­ting first milk­ing colostrum.” The level of an­ti­bod­ies pro­duced by the cow can be in­flu­enced by a num­ber of fac­tors, some re­lated to the cow's pre-calv­ing con­di­tion, and oth­ers to man­age­ment steps that you con­trol.

Vac­ci­na­tion of the dam with Ro­tavec Corona any­time be­tween 3-12 weeks be­fore calv­ing will boost the an­ti­bod­ies pro­duced in her colostrum, mean­ing more an­ti­bod­ies are avail­able to be passed on to the calf. The ef­fec­tive­ness of vac­ci­na­tion still re­lies on good colostrum be­ing pro­duced by the cow, and trans­ferred to the calf early. These are all im­por­tant things to dis­cuss with your vet­eri­nar­ian when prepar­ing your man­age­ment plan ahead of calv­ing. True colostrum needs to be treated care­fully if you’re plan­ning to store it for or­phan or re­jected calves, and it’s a chal­lenge to main­tain its qual­ity says Rose­mary. Each calf may need up to six litres so you can: • store it in the fridge where it will last a cou­ple of days; • add potas­sium sul­phate – a food preser­va­tive avail­able from your vet – to the colostrum, then store it in the fridge where it will last up to a week; • freeze it.

If you choose to freeze it, then you need to know the tricks of de­frost­ing it says Rose­mary.

“The prob­lem is the pro­teins (in­clud­ing an­ti­bod­ies) in it are quite del­i­cate. If they get too hot they just melt (de­na­ture), they break up and are de­stroyed and it’s the an­ti­bod­ies you want to pre­serve. When you’re de­frost­ing colostrum you want to do it as quickly as you can, with­out de­stroy­ing any­thing in it.” The best way is to use a hot wa­ter bath. “You want a big tub of hot wa­ter at a max­i­mum of 49°C – that’s roughly as hot as you can hold your hand in for 10 sec­onds be­fore it be­comes in­tol­er­a­ble. That will make the colostrum (within a con­tainer) de­frost at a rea­son­ably swift rate that won’t de­stroy any of the pro­teins, but swift enough that you’re not al­low­ing the colostrum to spoil."

When you look at a two year old cow, you might put her good health and pro­duc­tion down to fac­tors like good ge­net­ics, good feed, and good man­age­ment of her growth from birth.

But one of the most cru­cial fac­tors for the on­go­ing health and pro­duc­tion of an adult cow and how much (or how lit­tle) she will have cost you in feed and vet­eri­nary ex­penses over her life­time is down to the very first milk that she con­sumes.

“It’s very in­ter­est­ing,” says Dr Rose­mary Milne, a long-time farm vet who is now a tech­ni­cal ad­vi­sor for MSD An­i­mal Health. “They did a study in the US where they looked at feed­ing calves 2 litres and 4 litres of colostrum (in the 24 hours after birth) and fol­lowed these calves all the way through.

“It made a huge dif­fer­ence to them long-term, in terms of their health and their im­mune sys­tem. In the calves that re­ceived less colostrum, the vet costs were con­sid­er­ably higher, their pro­duc­tion in the first and sec­ond lac­ta­tion was lower and they had a lower av­er­age daily weight gain. This demon­strates that colostrum has a lot of ben­e­fi­cial fac­tors in ad­di­tion to pro­vid­ing an­ti­bod­ies, that we’re only just be­gin­ning to un­der­stand."

Calves are born with no im­mu­nity as they can’t ab­sorb an­ti­bod­ies across the pla­centa like they can with a lot of other nu­tri­ents. In­stead the cow puts an­ti­bod­ies into the colostrum and the calf has to drink that colostrum to get those an­ti­bod­ies.

The an­ti­bod­ies it re­ceives will pro­tect it for at least the first 3-4 weeks of life,

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