4 Q’s of Colostrum Management – Quickly

Last month we talked about how it is essential that the environment the calf is born into is clean and and has low disease pressure from older animals. This month we are going to dig deeper into the maternity pen program and discuss how good colostrum management plays another huge role in the success of your calf program.

The four Q’s are a great foundation for every calf program and maternity program. Focusing on only two or three of the four Q’s is leaving out something vital to calf health and performance no matter which ones you pick.

We love the 4 Q’s because it touches on all of the things that must be in a colostrum program for a calf to receive good colostrum and have the best opportunity at maximum passive transfer.

In this post we are going to touch on one of the four Q’s in detail.


  • IgG’s aren’t the only beneficial thing in the colostrum, but they are the most time sensitive portion!
  • Immediately after birth, a calf’s gut starts to close up FAST. With immunoglobulins being such large molecules, it makes it harder and harder for them to get in as time goes on.
  • After 6 hours, the gut is already at 10% capacity to absorb IgGs (which was only at 50% to being with and is now close to 10% at 6 hours).
  • As you can see by the chart below a calf’s ability to absorb colostrum is almost non-existent by about 16 hours after birth.
  • You many be able to make up some loss of time with quality, but this will only get you so far.
  • For example, if you can’t get calves fed for 6 hours after birth (calves born at night), account for that by adding a colostrum booster or feeding extremely high quality colostrum to the calves that are going the longest without being fed. This can help buffer some of the gut closer effect, but as you can see, after just 16 hours, the IgG ship has permanently sailed.
  • These IgG’s also have to compete with other things (both good and bad!) to get to the gut lining first. It’s a race you can win if you have efficient and effective systems in place. Bad bacteria can get in just as fast as good colostrum, so it is essential that both the maternity pen is clean AND the colostrum is delivered fast.

Now that you can see that that clock is ticking from the second the calf hits the ground, you can start to brainstorm and put processes in place to shorten the time between birth and that first essential feeding.

Here are a few things that we have done on our farm to GREATLY (like insanely) decrease the amount of time between birth and feeding.

We don’t freeze colostrum that will be used within 7 days. Add DK-ll instead to greatly reduce warming time!

  • Regular colostrum CANNOT sit in the fridge for 7 days, it will be FULL of bacteria.
  • Colostrum with DK-ll is stable in the fridge for at least 7 days. (We ran the plate counts to make sure).
  • Refrigerated colostrum can be warmed in half the time as frozen colostrum!

Get the right equipment to warm colostrum QUICKLY and SAFELY.

  • Colostrum that is stored at refrigerator temperatures can be SAFELY warmed in as little as 10 minutes to feeding temperature with the proper equipment. We LOVE our ColoQuick warming system.
    • By adding DK-ll to the colostrum, storing it at 42F (6C), and warming it safely (at less than 140F (60C), you can have ready to feed colostrum in about 10 minutes.
  • Not sure about refrigerating colostrum yet? Colostrum can be warmed in as little as 20 minutes from frozen using the ColoQuick warmer too!
  • If you want to pasteurize colostrum, consider having a bank built up so the calf isn’t waiting 1.5 hours for her colostrum to finish pasteurizing.

Set a timer or reminder to get the colostrum out of the warmers/bath/etc.

  • You get busy, trust us we know! But all that hard work will be for nothing if you let a bag of colostrum sit in a sink of lukewarm water for 5 hours.
  • Bacteria doubles every 20 minutes at room temperature. That goes for all colostrum, not just raw. While it might not be sitting at room temperature that entire time, leaving colostrum in lukewarm water is not helpful to keep bacteria levels low.

Set up cameras in your maternity pen so you can keep a close eye on calving times.

  • If calves are being born when no one is around, you might not realize how long they are going without getting their first feeding.
  • This can be easily remedied by adding a couple cameras to your maternity pen. Even better if you can live stream them to multiple devices!

Lock down protocols.

  • Make sure that all colostrum feeding protocols are laid out in detail, typed, laminated, and available to employees at all times.
  • Create easy to follow charts and flow diagrams to help employees make well informed choices on how and what to feed the new born calf.

Set up check points to make sure your maternity program is working.

  • Create a list of parameters for your farm that you want to stay within.
  • We recommend looking into multiple data points to get a full picture of how successful your maternity pen program is.
  • We recommend checking total proteins, documenting early life scour episodes (less than 3 days typically points to a maternity program issue.), taking plate counts and MULTIPLE points in your colostrum processing protocol, and taking note of things like newborn thriftiness.

All of the things listed above can greatly improve both calf health, and employee moral by making sure calves are getting colostrum in a timely manner. This will create less problem calves for you to deal with, and in return, will create a cheaper, more viable calf at the end of the day.

Does this sound like something you want to implement on your farm but you need a little help getting started? Send us a message, we would love to work with you to create an optimal maternity program for you and your calves.

Tune in next month for the next Q!

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