Checking Colostrum Transfer in Calves

The effects of inadequate colostral transfer in calves are well documented. Calves that don’t get sufficient colostrum are more than 5 times more likely to die before weaning and 9 times more likely to become diseased compared to calves that do get sufficient colostrum.

Not all cow colostrum is created equal, combined with the fact that antibody levels in the colostrum begin declining from the moment of calving until the cow gets milked it pays to be checking colostrum quality using a refractometer (here's our handy guide to using a refractometer).

Calves must get at least 10% of bodyweight as fresh, warm, first milking or ‘gold’ colostrum within 12hrs of birth. For a 35kg calf, this amounts to around 3.5 litres and therefore must be split across 2 feeds. After 24hrs the calf is no long- er able to absorb the antibodies in colostrum across the gut wall. Research has shown that 50% of calves do not get adequate colostrum from suckling the cow alone. If you suspect that a calf has not drunk when you collect it from the paddock then you must drench it with at least 2L of warm colostrum as soon as it enters the shed.

Many of your have spent good money on vaccinating your cows to protect calves against scours however if your colostrum management is not excellent then this is wasted money.

The amount of colostrum a calf gets can be measured us- ing a simple blood test. Taking samples from ten calves, 2- 7 days old in the first week of calving will give you a good indicator as to whether your calf rearing system and colostrum management is working.