“Whether you’re in a fall or spring calving herd, making sure newborn calves receive colostrum is absolutely essential,” says University of Nebraska-Lincoln Professor and Extension Beef Specialist Rick Rasby.
The highly concentrated milk consisting of fat, vitamins A and D is packed with antibodies and energy, and is pivotal in developing a calf’s immune system. Often, colostrum is referred to as “first milk” since it’s produced immediately post parturition. On top of this, research has shown calves that receive adequate amounts of colostrum typically perform better, with less health issues throughout their lives than calves that do not receive the first milk.
“Colostrum supplies the calf with immunoglobulins that help the calf fight early calfhood diseases,” says Rasby. “Since the immune system is not fully functional early on, you have to get some antibodies in that calf. And as the calf progresses in age, its immune system begins to ramp up and then it starts to produce its own immunoglobulins.”
Rasby says producers need to keep a close eye on newborn calves to make sure they get up to suck within two to four hours of birth. In case of complication arising, Rasby says a plan of action needs to be ready to implement so that colostrum makes it into the calf no later than six hours after the calf hits the ground – the sooner the better for the health of the calf.
If producers can’t get the dam’s colostrum to her calf, Rasby advises them to work with their veterinarian to determine the best colostrum supplementation for their herd.