4 Q’s of Colostrum Management – Quality!

Last month we covered the first Q of colostrum management, which is quickly. While making sure that colostrum is delivered as fast as possible, delivering high quality colostrum is just as important. Like we said before, the 4 Q’s are like a 4 legged chair, if you take one away, you’re going to tip over (or at least have a hard time!).

Quality is a very in depth process with many layers and factors, but we are going to help you make it easier for you AND your employees to make critical decisions on colostrum quality quickly and effectively.

First, there are two things that make up colostrum quality.

One part that makes up colostrum quality is the IgG reading on the BRIX refractometer. This is a very important number to know when giving a first feeding because there needs to be enough immunoglobulins to go around. Calves need at least 200g of IgG (4 quarts at about 25 on the BRIX scale) to have the ABILITY to achieve passive transfer (6.0 g/dL). Notice how I said ability, not that if you give 200g of IgG to a calf, that you will automatically achieve passive transfer. This is a very important thing to keep in mind because there are many factors that can sway this number and the calf’s ability to actually absorb those IgG’s, some of which have to do with quality.

The other part of colostrum quality is making sure it is sQueaky clean. Clean colostrum is essential to improving IgG absorption. There is only so much room in the gut for the IgGs to enter the system, but along with that there is also equally as many spots available for the bad guys to get in too. Keep this in the forefront of your mind as you are troubleshooting and looking for areas of improvement in your colostrum program, as this point is many times overlooked and undervalued.

In order to have high quality colostrum going to your calves, you need to make sure that you are doing a couple things:

  1. You need to quality check EVERY SINGLE GALLON.
    • That sounds tedious, but it’s the fastest and easiest way to start quality checking your colostrum.
    • This can be done with multiple tools, some of which only cost $30. Check out this one on Amazon for $25.
    • If you want to spend a little more, we really like our BRIX refractometer by Misco.
  2. You need to keep records of the time, quality, and calf ID that the colostrum is going to (and if you really want to get fancy, record who the colostrum came from too!).
    • Check out our colostrum feeding sheets here! Consider requiring employee initials in the notes/comments section for an extra layer of protection.
    • Keeping records of this data will make tracking trends and issues much easier!
  3. You need to make sure that you are getting the colostrum from the cow ASAP.
    • As time goes on after the cow calves, she is diluting colostrum with regular milk fairly quickly. This will quickly drop the quality of the colostrum.
  4. Make sure you keep in mind that the calf’s ability to absorb IgGs decreases quickly.
    • The higher the quality, and the faster you can get that colostrum into that calf, the better opportunity she has to absorb the IgGs you are offering her!
    • While things like pasteurization can be a great tool on farm, you need to make sure you have efficient systems in place to make sure that calf isn’t waiting more than 4 hours for her first feeding of colostrum.
  5. Remember, IgGs compete for gut space just as much as every other thing that gets into the gut before the colostrum does.
    • That means good and bad bacteria!
    • Make sure you aren’t hindering absorption by offering high bacterial count colostrum, causing those IgGs to have to fight for a spot.
    • One way we have helped to decrease bacteria in the colostrum and improve serum total proteins is by adding DK-ll to the colostrum. This has helped buffer out bottlenecks in the colostrum collection process and in the maternity environment (for only $0.007 per calf too!).

What do you do if you are struggling to get good passive transfer, or if you are struggling to get high quality colostrum out of your cows.

There are a few things you can do.

  1. Find a high quality (all bovine IgG) colostrum replacer. Make sure you have someone qualified mixing and feeding, and that you have a chart that clearly spells out how much colostrum replacer to water you need to use based on the colostrum quality.
  2. When you decrease bacteria, you immediately increase colostrum quality by giving the calf a better opportunity to absorb helpful bacteria and IgGs instead of bad bacteria taking up precious gut space and causing all kinds of issues. We highly recommend adding a preservative to your colostrum to help increase colostrum quality and keep harmful bacteria low. We use (and swear by) DK-ll as a colostrum additive. We have noticed many improvements in our serum protein levels (an average of a 1 point increase) since adding DK-ll to our colostrum processing protocol.

If you want to further investigate your maternity and colostrum program with people who have been there, done that in terms of dealing with challenges in the maternity area, reach out to us today to get started on your journey to simpler calf raising. We want calf raising to be fun and enjoyable for everyone, and that all starts on day one of a calf’s life!

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