Every beef cattle expert out there will tell you the pre-partum nutrition of a cow will affect the quality of colostrum produced. And, we know that calves need colostrum to stay alive.
Eldon Cole, livestock specialist for the University of Missouri Extension, stated, “It is really important to get colostrum in the calf within six hours after it is born. Beyond that, the ability to gain benefit from it decreases.”
But what are the finer points on this issue that producers need to know?
We begin at the nutritional needs of a pregnant cow. “Gestating cows don’t quite have the same nutritional demands as lactating cows, but their nutritional requirements are not to be ignored,” Dr. Jeremy Powell, extension veterinarian for the University of Arkansas, said. “Cows should be maintained in good body condition, and ideally you want a cow to calve with a Body Condition Score (BCS) of 6.” The University of Missouri Extension publication, “Body Condition Scoring of Beef and Dairy Animals” describes a cow with a BCS of 6 having a “Good smooth appearance throughout; some fat deposition in brisket and over tailhead; ribs covered and back appears rounded.”
To achieve this level of body condition for a cow in calving season, Powell explained you must provide adequate nutrition to a cow during gestation. “Otherwise, problems may occur after calving which may include inferior colostrum production and poor fertility during rebreeding,” Powell added. And, he noted, heifers will even need a bit more feed and supplement to achieve a BCS of 6. “Because they are still growing and maturing, heifers should be managed very carefully during this time. Because of their extra requirements, they may need extra supplementation that mature cows can get by without. Sort cows based on body condition and supplement the animals that are in need of better nutrition,” Powell suggested.
Colostrum quality can be affected by many factors. Powell noted these might include the age of the dam, pre-calving nutrition and pre-calving vaccinations. Powell noted, “Colostrum is the first milk that will be nursed by the calf.  It contains a high level of protein, energy, vitamins and minerals to get the calf off to a good start.  But, most importantly, it contains a high level of antibodies that provides passive transfer of immunity to the calf, to aid it in fighting infections early in life.”
So how do you quantify quality colostrum? Cole suggested for most producers this is more of an art than a science. He noted that while there are instruments used to measure the quality of colostrum, he was at a vet’s office the other day, and the vet had just had a delivery problem, and was talking about “looking at the colostrum,” and was saying it “looked like” it was good quality.
Ultimately, Cole said he agrees colostrum quality and quantity is more a function of the quality of nutrition going into a cow. “If she is in a thin, run-down body condition, she’s not going to produce as much colostrum and the calf will be affected by that.”


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