Cow condition will impact colostrum production 

Colostrum plays a critical role in the health of calves. It sets the stage for a calf’s development and provides protection from some illnesses. “Most of the research will indicate the cow passes immunity to the calf through colostrum,” Andy McCorkill, University of Missouri Extension Field Specialist in Livestock, said. “A lot of that comes down to ensuring the cow can produce adequate colostrum to begin with.” 

Cow Condition

According to livestock extension specialists the most important management strategy for making sure a cow produces quality colostrum is keeping her in adequate flesh. “The biggest hurdle to overcome with good colostrum starts with the body condition of the cow,” McCorkill explained.

If the momma cow is healthy, then she is more likely to produce colostrum in ample quantity and quality. “For the most part, making sure that the cow is in good shape nutritionally is the best insurance policy that you have toward getting her to take good care of the calf,” McCorkill said. 

 One measure of proper condition is the body condition score (BCS) of the cow at calving. Livestock extension specialists recommend a cow’s BCS at calving should be between a five and six or even a low seven. “That’s where we like to see them, so they are in their ideal shape to take care of themselves and be able to pass that immunity onto the calf,” McCorkill added. 

Nutritional Balance

Getting the cow to her right body condition takes a balanced approach to nutrition. Though many times producers focus on protein, experts recommend producers also pay attention to the energy in the rations they are feeding their cows. “Protein is the one that is always on everyone’s mind, but energy is where we tend to be the most lacking a lot of times in ration, particularly in a year like this where what forage we have is limited and poor-quality,” McCorkill explained.

The energy in rations can be measured in Total Digestible Nutrients (TDN). McCorkill recommends producers consider setting a target percentage for energy their cattle are getting in the ration. He suggests 55 percent for cows in mid-gestation, 60 percent for cows in late gestation, and 65 percent for cows in the peak of their lactation. “That’s a little bit oversimplified. If you feed them that way, they may be a little bit fleshy,” McCorkill stated. “But that’s a simple estimate and target to shoot for.”

McCorkill added if producers aim for those percentages their cows will keep their flesh, and if the cows have a little more condition, then so be it. “I look at that extra flesh on a cow, within reason, as being God’s gift of a way for the cow to store energy for leaner times,” McCorkill said. 

Supplement with Minerals

In addition, giving cows access to minerals may help to boost the quality of a cow’s colostrum. Each producer will need to determine where the imbalances are within their own operation and choose the appropriate minerals to supplement their cow herd. “You don’t have to spend a lot on a mineral supplement to get the job done, but it is a good idea to have mineral out all the time,” McCorkill said. 


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