news / april
Calves Require Cleanliness
When colostrum is bacteria-laden, we do more
harm than good
by Amanda Smith, Hoard’s Dairyman Associate
We’ve been indoctrinated with the five C’s
to give calves their best possible start. Colostrum
tops this list, followed by calories, cleanliness,
comfort and consistency. Despite the order we’ve
all been taught, colostrum and cleanliness must go
hand in hand.
Even colostrum feeding has its own mantra, noted Bob
James in a recent Dairy Pipeline.
We must feed high-quality colostrum. Levels exceeding
50 grams of IgG per liter are considered good. On
a Brix refractometer, values exceeding 22 indicates
good quality colostrum.
Feed enough colostrum and feed it early. It is
often recommended that the calf receive 4 liters
of colostrum in the 12 hours after birth. This provides
approximately 200 grams of IgG.
It must be CLEAN!
Within the small intestine, there is a race between
the colostrum antibodies and bacteria to reach the
site of absorption. If bacteria win, antibody absorption
is severely reduced, regardless of the antibody volume
the calf consumes.
Excessive bacterial levels often arise from two sources:
the calving environment and poorly handled colostrum.
As it comes from the cow, noted James, first-milking
colostrum has a relatively low bacteria count (less
than 100 colony forming units per milliliter). Research
from the University of Minnesota has found that, on
average, the bacterial counts obtained from an esophageal
feeder or storage bucket exceeded 10,000 cfu/mL.
Any tool we use to store or provide colostrum to the
calf must be rigorously sanitized. After each use,
James recommends the following sanitation steps:
- Rinse with lukewarm water
- Scrub with hot, soapy water
- Rinse with a sanitizer
- Invert to allow drying
Rinsing with hot water negates our efforts, as hot
water causes a biofilm to form on the container surface.
These biofilms are conducive to bacterial growth.
Another Minnesota study demonstrated the importance
of maintaining low bacterial levels in colostrum. In
a field trial, 500 calves were fed raw colostrum while
the other half received pasteurized colostrum. The
high level of coliform bacteria in the raw colostrum
was highly and negatively correlated with antibody
The author is an associate editor and an animal science
graduate of Cornell University. Smith covers feeding,
milk quality and heads up the World Dairy Expo
Supplement. She grew up on a Medina, N.Y., dairy,
and interned at a 1,700-cow western New York dairy,
a large New York calf and heifer farm, and studied
in New Zealand for one semester.