Colostrum is the first mothers milk for any animal. It is important for the baby to have this first milk if the animal is to survive. For calves it is important and after researching this is what I have discovered.
Colostrum and why calves need it
In the past we raised dairy calves on a bottle and we also had a herd of beef cows. There are many things that we learned over those years. Our first bunch of bottle calves we purchased from a auction. Mistake #1 on our part.
First off we didn’t know the background of these calves. It was unknown to us if they been fed the colostrum in the first 24 hours or if they got it at all. The calves all came from the same dairy. We had purchased 7 of them. No matter what we did for these calves they struggled and we lost the first 6 within just a few months.
We decided they didn’t get colostrum and we would no longer take a risk buying them from the auction. Calf number 7 lived until it was 250 lbs. Then one day as it ran around the barnyard looking just fine it dropped dead. We will never know if this was due to lack of colostrum, but needless to say we can see the importance of this first mothers milk.
The next year we went on raising 104 out of 106 bottle calves. We learned a lot about raising dairy calves and the what to do and not to do’s. We bought our dairy calves from one dairy, and they made sure the calves got colostrum. Our beef herd was very successful, but we had already learned a lot many years before.
Why is colostrum important
I wanted to know why the colostrum was so important to a calf of any breed. After doing some research I found many reasons why colostrum is so important.
Colostrum is the essential immunity for a calf. It is the most important meal of a lifetime for baby animals. I am sure it works the same way for other animals but this is what I learned about calves.
The immune system of a calf
This is a simplified version of what I learned. A calf is born with a functioning immune system from the cow. The immune system at this point has a weak resistance to bacteria, viruses and microorganisms. The antibodies a calf needs to give the immune system a boost is in the colostrum.
It is very important for the calf to get this nutrient dense meal right after it is born. Most calves are up within the half hour to start sucking on its mom. When the calf starts to suck there is a trigger that closes a structure in the rumen. This creates a bypass that allows the colostrum to travel directly to their small intestine where it is absorbed thus boosting the immune system.
Once a calf starts to consume milk rather than the colostrum the highly absorbable cells in the intestine begin to change. After 24 hours the gut is considered closed and the colostrum is no longer much of a benefit. At this point antibodies are difficult to be absorbed and the milk is routed to the rumen.
Fresh colostrum from the cow is always best for a calf. If you need to use a powdered colostrum make sure it is a high quality brand. The first ingredient on the list should be dehydrated bovine colostrum. It may cost a little more to buy but in the long run it will be money well spent.
Something we have learned is if you are going to save fresh colostrum. It is best to save it from your own cows and put it in freezer bags in the freezer. To thaw the colostrum do not put it in the microwave. Microwaving damages the antibodies the calf needs to boost the immune system. Thaw the colostrum slowly by placing the bag into hot tap water and letting it sit.
We don’t like to bring in fresh colostrum from other ranches or dairies. Every ranch has its own set of viruses and bacteria in my opinion. Mother cows build up their own set of antibodies to the bugs on their own ranch passing these onto their babies. When you bring in bugs from other places you can infect your calf with something their immune system isn’t prepared to handle. This is our theory and it works for us. We never put a dairy calf as a replacement if we lose a calf for the same principle of bringing in other diseases from other herds.
Feeding the calf colostrum
The sucking of the calf is what triggers the colostrum to bypass the stomach and go right to the intestine. If you have to tube the calf keep this in mind. If the colostrum does go right into the rumen the calf will still benefit but it takes longer for good results. So bottle feeding the calf is the best choice.
Understanding the why’s for me is important. I hope you enjoyed my post. Hopefully it answered some questions for you also.