Livestock producers must take special care when freezing and thawing colostrum

While no producer enjoys thinking about it, sometimes situations arise on the farm that require bottle feeding a newborn animal. Sometimes the mother dies, sometimes there might be an issue with udders or teats, or sometimes the mother might refuse the baby, either from lack of experience or for unknown reasons. Whatever the case might be, producers should be sure to keep colostrum on hand for emergencies.

Colostrum is the milk that is produced for a few days after birth and is characterized by high protein and antibody content – a proper amount of colostrum ensures the critical development of a newborn’s immune system. Colostrum is typically yellow in color and is thicker than “regular” milk.

When it comes to preserving colostrum for future use, cow and goat colostrum is typically what is used. While there are breeds of dairy sheep that could be milked for this purpose, they are not common in this area, so cow and goat colostrum is more accessible. After ensuring that the newborn calves and kids have ingested enough colostrum, healthy dams can be milked by hand or machine to preserve some of the excess. Older females tend to produce greater quantity and quality.

When preserving goat colostrum for goat kids (and lambs as well), producers should be taking steps to prevent the spread of Caprine Arthritic Encephalitis (CAE). Heating the colostrum to 133 degrees for one hour prior to freezing will kill the virus if it is present.

“We use powdered cow colostrum or heat-treated colostrum from negative does for Caprine Arthritic Encephalitis prevention,” Lesley Million of Terrell Creek Farm in Fordland, Mo., said.

For short term use, colostrum can be kept in the refrigerator for up to three days. For long term use, freezing in small batches is the best option. Colostrum can be stored up to six months frozen, and this method preserves the necessary bacteria. Freezing does not, however, preserve the white blood cells present in the colostrum, but this can actually be a benefit for disease prevention.

Freezing and thawing destroys white blood cells or leukocytes. There is evidence that white blood cells are beneficial to calves, however not much is known about how important the role of white blood cells is in colostrum. A benefit to freezing colostrum is that Bovine Leukemia Virus is stored in the white blood cells and is effectively inactivated by freezing and thawing colostrum.

Batches should be small to avoid waste. Once colostrum has been thawed and reheated, it cannot be refrozen or the necessary antibodies and proteins will be compromised.

To safely and effectively thaw colostrum, place frozen bags in hot water, recommended Glenn Selk, Oklahoma State University Cooperative Extension emeritus animal scientist. This will thaw the colostrum and warm it to temperature without damaging any antibodies.

It is not practical for every producer to own a dairy cow or dairy goat to obtain colostrum from, so if colostrum is needed from off the farm, it’s best to plan ahead prior to calving, kidding or lambing season.

“If there is a dairy in your area, the opportunity may exist to obtain some natural colostrum from newly freshened dairy cows,” Selk said. “Avoid obtaining colostrum from dairies known to have had an incidence of Johnes Disease.”

Powdered colostrum can be also obtained from many farm supply stores or through a veterinarian if fresh or frozen colostrum is not an option.


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