Although February and March are still a few weeks away, looking ahead to the spring calving season requires that producers be prepared for those situations where mother-nature needs a little boost.  Beef cow calf producers occasionally will need to provide commercial colostrum to baby calves that are born to two-year old heifers with very little milk, or to calves after a difficult birth.  Some of these calves are very sluggish and slow to get up and find the teat.  Therefore, they may not get the colostrum that they need to achieve successful passive transfer unless colostrum is provided by the cattle manager.  Knowing which products to use in different situations can be very helpful.  Colostrum supplements are less expensive to purchase than colostrum replacers, but they may not be the best choice for the situation at hand.

The following excerpt from a Pennsylvania State University publication that is published on the E-Extension website helps to sort out the differences:  “Colostrum products that contain Immunoglobulin G (IgG) are regulated by the USDA Center for Veterinary Biologics. Supplement products are unable to raise the blood concentration of IgG above the species standard, which is 10 mg/ml. Any product that is able to raise serum IgG concentration above 10 mg/ml may be called a colostrum replacer.

Typically, colostrum supplements contain less than 100 g of IgG per dose and are composed of bovine colostrum, other milk products, or bovine serum. Colostrum supplements can be used to increase the amount of IgG fed to calves when only low or medium quality colostrum is available. However, supplements cannot replace high quality colostrum. Even when a supplement is added to low quality colostrum, the IgG is often absorbed poorly, and antibody absorption is reduced compared to high quality maternal colostrum.

A limited number of products designed to replace colostrum are now on the market. These are bovine serum-based products and contain at least 100 g of IgG per liter plus fat, protein, vitamins, and minerals needed by the newborn calf. Colostrum replacer contains more immunoglobulin than supplement products and provides more antibodies than poor or moderate quality colostrum. In research trials, calves fed colostrum replacer have performed as well as calves fed maternal colostrum with no differences in IgG levels, efficiency of IgG absorption, incidence of scours, or growth rates.”  (Source: E-Extension website “Colostrum Supplements and Replacer”, Authors: Sylvia Kehoe, Coleen Jones,  Jud Heinrichs, The Pennsylvania State University, Department of Dairy and Animal Science).

Source: Glenn Selk, Oklahoma State University Emeritus Extension Animal Scientist