T he value of feeding calves good quality colostrum is well documented.
At the same time, colostrum substitutes have come into greater use.
Several factors have led to this change:
- The colostrum substitutes have become higher quality and are more convenient than using frozen colostrum.
- There is a shortage of heavy producing cows from which to save colostrum because less cows need help during calving and more producers calve later on grass.
- It was always considered best to have colostrum from your own cows because they are on your nutritional and vaccination program.
The spray-dried colostrum we buy from the Saskatoon Colostrum Company with such names as Headstart and Calf’s Choice Total are pasteurized in the spray dry process mainly to protect against diseases such as Johne’s. All batches are tested on calves as well as in the lab before they are sold.
All the other products sold in Canada are imported from the United States, where companies remove some of the fat, antimicrobials and immune factors.
There is a big market for these components in the human health supplement field.
The western Canadian company does not do that, which is all the more reason to shop locally.
The heat treatment makes this commercial supplement safer than acquiring colostrum from a dairy where you don’t know the health status.
There is nothing wrong with getting colostrum from the first milk of a productive cow in your herd and freezing it for another day, but hopefully it doesn’t have Johne’s disease.
As well, colostrum needs to be collected carefully to prevent manure contamination.
However, busy farmers can save time by rehydrating colostrum replacers quickly in warm water rather than carefully thawing out frozen colostrum.
It’s important to recognize how many grams of immunoglobulin are in the product. We have always preached that calves should receive at least 100 grams of immunoglobulin before they are six hours old.
It is critical when using a product such as Headstart (60g IgG) that the calf receive extra colostrum from the cow because this product is designed to be fed as an immediate feeding, and the calf should still be encouraged to suckle the cow in the first few hours of life. The Calf’s Choice Total provides the 100g IgG.
These products may seem expensive but the old adage of getting what you pay for holds true. The better quality colostrum supplements, such as those with higher levels of immunoglobulin, are generally more expensive.
Beware of cheap colostrum supplements.
For example, colostrix boluses were touted as a colostrum source years ago. Each bolus contained 0.3 grams of immunoglobulin, meaning 300 boluses would be needed to achieve the full 100 grams. Somehow I don’t think that was ever done.
Inexpensive colostrum sources may also not absorb as well into the calf because they have a lower percentage of IgG than the high quality complete colostrum product. The only ingredient on the label should be colostrum.
Buy the good substitutes and store them well and follow the mixing directions closely.
Producers should also think of colostrum supplements more as partial substitutes, such as with twins from an average cow where both calves have sucked somewhat. Splitting a 100 gram package between the two calves ensures they both have had enough colostrum.
It never hurts to give colostrum if there is any doubt that they have sucked, such as with a weak calf, a wild mother, a calf from a hard pull or a calf whose mother has big teats. Giving the entire package (100 grams of immunoglobulin) provides good insurance that the calf’s entire colostrum needs have been met.
Colostrum substitutes made from actual colostrum from western Canadian dairy cows seems like a good idea to me. The more local the better because it helps prevent diseases that you are more likely to see in your own calves.
My clinic used to acquire frozen colostrum from reputable dairies, but most of them now contract to the Saskatoon Colostrum Co. It is a significant convenience for farmers to have access to a product that can be kept at room temperature and easily rehydrated and fed when needed.
Roy Lewis has a veterinary practice in Westlock, Alta. and works part time as a technical services veterinarian with Merck Animal Health.