Colostrum, by definition, is milk secreted for a few days after childbirth and characterized by high protein and antibody content.”

If you are a livestock producer, you know that first drink of momma’s milk is the most important, because of the colostrum. But just why is it so important to newborns? What happens if a newborn doesn’t get colostrum? And in the event that you lose a mother during the birthing process, what can you do to ensure that the baby still gets colostrum?

Colostrum is what helps newborn animals build their immune system.

“Colostrum is critical to survival of the newborn calf,” said Dr. Tom Troxel, animal science professor at the University of Arkansas. “The immune system of newborn calves is not completely developed. Consequently, the antibodies and immunoglobulins in colostrum are a substantial component of the immune protection in newborn calves. Calves should receive 5 to 6 percent of their body weight as colostrum within six hours and again within the subsequent six hours.”

As a producer, how can you make sure your new additions have received colostrum? Be prepared for long, sleepless shifts during calving/kidding/lambing/farrowing season – because you have to be there.

“We attend all births and bottle feed colostrum within the first few hours so we know that each kid gets enough,” Lesley Million of Terrell Creek Farm said of her dairy goat herd.

Newborn livestock not getting enough colostrum in the first 24 hours of life is pretty much a death sentence – without it, they generally don’t survive. The timing of the colostrum delivery is critical, especially if you find yourself in a bottle-feeding situation.

“The antibodies found in colostrum are absorbed whole…through the lining of the stomach. However, the efficiency with which a newborn can absorb these antibodies declines within just one hour after birth.

The ability to absorb antibodies drastically decreases after 12 hours and is essentially gone by 24 hours of age. Therefore, if a newborn doesn’t get colostrum within the first 24 hours of birth, its chances of survival are very slim,” Mike Metzger with the Michigan State University Extension has said.

In the event that a mother cannot provide colostrum for her newborn (death, udder problems, refusing to take the baby, etc.), there are other methods of colostrum delivery.

“We use powdered cow colostrum or heat-treated colostrum from negative does for Caprine Arthritic Encephalitis prevention,” Million said. She added, “we do not use colostrum substitute, only true colostrum.”

Having preparations made will make this type of situation smoother and less stressful for all parties.

“Planning ahead in these situations is critical. Freeze extra colostrum from several healthy older animals (colostrum quality is better in older animals than first timers) to have it on hand,” Metzger said. “It is important to thaw only the amount of colostrum needed (once thawed you cannot refreeze), thus it is best to freeze colostrum in small quantities.”

When birthing season begins on your farm, keep an eye on your critters and colostrum in your freezer – hopefully, you won’t need to use it, but if you do you can save a life.


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