All livestock need to have Colostrum shortly after birth for the passing of antibodies 

For the first month after birth, a newborn animal depends on the antibodies from the mother’s colostrum to prevent diseases.

Colostrum has the first nutrients that a newborn animal ingests. It allows for the passing of antibodies and other nutrients for passive immunity to be formed. Most livestock animals need about 5 to 6 percent of their body weight in colostrum within the first six hours of birth. The animal will also continue to receive colostrum from its mother for up to 48 hours.

In Cattle

The colostrum contains proteins that help build up the calf’s immunity against disease, according to Jeremy Powell, an animal science professor at the University of Arkansas.

“Colostrum is the first milk that is produced following calving,” Powell said. “It contains components that help build the calf’s early immunity against disease.”

Ideally, the calf needs to get around two quarts within the first two hours of life, and then two more quarts by six hours of life.

It is recommend to have a backup supply of colostrum that can be easily accessed for use when calves can’t get enough.

“I suggest keeping some available to be prepared for the calving season,” Powell said.

The colostrum can either be stored fresh or frozen. Colostrum can be frozen for up to one year with minimal loss of antibodies.

“There are commercial preparations of colostrum that can be purchased and kept on hand for use during the calving season,” Powell said.

These artificial supplements and replacements can be purchased at some feed stores, but the levels of globin protein, or IgG, need to be considered. Replacements will have a full dose of the proteins and antibodies, while a supplement will only have about a half dose of the antibodies and proteins.

Some calves need human help in order to get colostrum. They can be fed either via a bottle or a stomach tube, which is preferred with colostrum as it’s only able to be absorbed for a short period of time, Powell said.

In Goats and Sheep

Small ruminants nurse every two hours, as they can only absorb important nutrients for about 12 hours, according to Elizabeth Walker, an animal science professor at Missouri State University.

“We call it gut block. This is when the gut no longer is able to absorb the large proteins that colostrum is made up of,” Walker said.

It is recommended to have a backup supply of colostrum if the animal has multiple offspring or is unable to care for its young. One method is to collect colostrum from early-birthing mothers in the herd to save in case others have problems later in the season. Like cow colostrum, goat and sheep colostrum can be frozen beforehand, if needed.

“We had dairy goats, and some would kid beforehand and then we would freeze it,” Walker said. “My mom would use ice cube trays, if we needed some we could just pop some out.”

It’s best to keep to the same species for colostrum. Aim to use colostrum from the same farm, if possible.

“Goats need goat colostrum, ” Walker said, but if needed, sheep and cow colostrum will work.

“It’s better (for the substitute colostrum) to come from the same farm, as the animal has been exposed to the same pathogens that the newborn is, this allows that passive immunity to work more efficiently.”

When the animal has multiples, both twins should be allowed to nurse at the same time. The smaller twin’s side should then be milked out to supplement feeding and to prevent the mother from developing mastitis.

“Twenty to 30 milliliters every couple of hours if you are supplementing,” Walker said. “Twenty to 30 is better than nothing.”

In Swine

The pigs need to nurse within 15 to 20 minutes of birth. After six to eight hours, the quality of colostrum begins to drop, according to Mark Crenshaw, an animal science professor at Mississippi State University.

“Pigs have a low energy level at birth, so colostrum provides not only nutrients but also body heat,” he said.

As with other species, it is recommended to have a supply of colostrum available in case the sow will not allow the pigs to nurse.

“Sow’s colostrum is always preferred, but if needed, cow colostrum can be substituted,” Crenshaw said. “It should be administered via a syringe or a stomach tube.”

Smaller pigs often need “a helping hand to ensure survival,” Crenshaw said.

“One thing you can do is pull the bigger pigs who are over two and a half pounds at birth,” Crenshaw said, “and allow the smaller pigs to nurse without competition, while the larger pigs stay under a heat lamp.”


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