Calves benefit from longer colostrum feeding

Gut development is enhanced if they get more than a couple of colostrum feedings

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Multiple feedings of colostrum in the first few hours of life is an important investment in that calf’s long-term productivity, researchers say.

The more feedings of colostrum a calf receives in its first first few hours of life the better it is for long-term productivity, farmers attending a recent research says that colostrum fed for several meals is also of important benefit.

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During the 2019 Smart Calf Rearing Conference, held at the University of Guelph on Nov. 2, Dr. Michael Steele, associate professor at the university, presented advice for producers on proper protocols for colostrum feeding.

Why it matters: There are so many factors to take into consideration when looking at the first few hours and days of a calf’s life in terms of nutrition. Colostrum is one of key nutritional factors to consider in the calf’s first few hours and days. Colostrum is a big part of this as it has many effects on a calf’s long-term productivity.

A study completed by Faber and colleagues in 2005, shows animals fed four litres of colostrum had greater average daily gain, survival and milk yield through second lactation and age at conception than those being fed two litres.

Colostrum contains more components than just the immunoglobulins. All the components help establish a healthy gut and microbiota, essential for optimal health.

“You have to feed the cleanest colostrum that you possibly can. You have to make sure that the quantity is ample, three to four litres in the first meal, ensuring you are over 50 IgG per litre and feeding it as quickly as possible.”

Tubed versus bottle fed

Whether tubed or bottle fed, there is no difference in the passive transfer of immunoglobulins.

When bottle fed, the milk goes straight to the abomasum. When tubed, the milk starts at the rumen, then to the abomasum and finally to the small intestine.

“We look at how much immunoglobulin G (IgG) is showing up in the blood, (the results) are on top of one another, which I did not expect.”

Steele recommends whatever works best for farmers on their operation. If producers are finding bottle feeding cumbersome, he recommends giving calves colostrum with a tube, especially when labour is an issue.

Time of colostrum feeding

Steele says majority of calves are born between 10 p.m. and 4 a.m., meaning it’s likely calves are not getting colostrum within the first hour of being born.

“When you feed calves earlier with the colostrum meal, you are going to have healthier microbiota within these calves. The establishment of a healthy gut microbiota is critical because of the amount of gut health issues that occur in the dairy industry right now.”

Transition from colostrum to milk

Most farmers are fixated on the passive transfer of immunoglobulins within the colostrum. Therefore, colostrum is fed for only the first two feedings and then calves are switched to whole milk or milk replacer.

“These bioactives (insulin, growth hormone and insulin-like growth factor) are still so high in the second, third, fourth and sometimes fifth milking and we are typically discarding this and I think that the calf really needs this.”

Researchers looked at feeding one meal of colostrum, then transitioning to whole milk. A second treatment switched to 50 per cent milk and 50 per cent colostrum as a mixture and then back to colostrum. They found the structure of the gut was depressed on the diet with less colostrum.

“Intestinal villi, there’s not a lot of growth here in this group (with lower colostrum) that had this dramatic transition to milk.”

Within the other diet of the colostrum, milk mixture and the colostrum, the gut growth had reached its maximum capacity.

“Make sure you have a really sound transition program so that you can go from colostrum to a whole milk over multiple days, either by feeding transition milk or supplementing a colostrum with the milk.”

About the author


Jennifer Glenney

Jennifer lives on a farm in Cayuga, Ontario and has a lot of experience in the many aspects of agriculture.



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