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Liquid gold: The importance of colostrum in new-born calves

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Colostrum is the natural and most important defence mechanism against disease for new-born calves. Adequate quality and quantity of colostrum fed to calves promptly leads to higher performance, immune success, and reduces economic losses.

To ensure efficient, high performance calf rearing, one of the critical success factors is correct colostrum feeding during the initial 24 hours of the calf’s life.

“Unlike humans, there is no immune transfer from cow to calf across the placenta, which means new-born calves are completely reliant on their mother’s colostrum immediately after birth to provide them with the necessary antibodies they need to fight diseases,” says Volac Global Technical Manager, Ian Watson.

Mr Watson recommends that calfrearers should always pay attention to the four Qs of colostrum feeding:


New-born calves should receive the first feed of four litres (or 10% of the calves’ body weight) within the first four hours of birth; this should then be followed by an additional two litres within 12 hours of birth. Consider feeding all calves using a bottle and teat to ensure the calf has consumed enough colostrum. If a calf should refuse to suck, use a stomach tube.


Colostrum quality varies significantly between individual cows and heifers. For example, dilution effects often lead to high yielders producing lower quality colostrum, and short dry periods can also reduce colostrum quality.


Antibodies are absorbed at a high rate soon after birth. The quicker you get colostrum into the new-born calf the better. The concentration of antibodies in colostrum is at its highest immediately after calving, and it decreases every hour after birth.

sQueaky clean

Cleanliness is vital when harvesting and storing colostrum. Colostrum is an excellent medium for bacterial growth at room temperature and can quickly become contaminated in the absence of sound hygiene practices. Store any colostrum that has not been used within an hour in the fridge.

Poor colostrum management negatively affects calf development and future production. “If bacteria are allowed to multiply in colostrum, it will compromise antibody update by the calf, or worst-case scenario, feeding contaminated colostrum can cause sickness, diarrhoea and even death,” says Mr Watson.

If your herd has issues with calf health, it is well worth checking out your colostrum management and feeding protocol. Test colostrum quality with a colostrometer and/or BRIX refractometer, and also ask your veterinarian to test the immune status of your calves.

In next month’s issue we shall look at methods to measure colostrum quality. Stay tuned for more. Nutribase is the market leader in feed supplements for Africa. Visit their website for information, contact Jaco Faasen, Product Manager on (+27)82-607-6601, or send an e-mail to

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