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  • Writer's pictureKaty Stanlake

Colostrum - The 4 Qs

Updated: Nov 18, 2022


The concentration of antibodies (ideally >50g/l) can vary between heifers and cows so it is important that we measure the concentration of antibodies in the colostrum before we give it to a calf.


  • Colostrometer - cheap, easy to use, but reliability can vary with temperature of colostrum

  • Suck colostrum into a graduating column → traffic light

  • Red < 30g/l, Orange 30-50 g/l, Green >50g/l

  • Brix-Scale refractometer - much more reliable than colostrometer!

  • 22% Brix value is equivalent to 50g/l on colostrometer

Vaccine status of dam – colostrum contains antibodies which act against diseases the dam has been exposed to naturally or vaccinated against.

For example - Bovigen Scour vaccine

Vaccinating pregnant cows and heifers –> raise antibodies to E.coli, Rotavirus, and Coronavirus –> colostrum from these dams will then help to protect calves to some of the most common pathogens associated with scour –> reduce the severity and shedding of diarrhoea causing pathogens.

Measuring success of passive transfer – even when we give calves high quality colostrum, we still need to ensure the calves are absorbing appropriate levels of antibody. We can do this by taking blood samples from calves 1-7 days old to look for total protein (which correlates to antibody/IgG levels).

Total protein: Red <50g/L, Orange 50-55 g/L, Green >55 g/L

IgG: Red <10 g/L, Orange 10-12 g/L, Green >12 g/L

If less than 80% of the group are green – it would be wise to investigate further, please contact your vet for more information!


  • Minimum of 10-12% bodyweight

  • For example - 40kg calf needs at least 4L in the first six hours, ideally within two hours, then repeat after 12-24 hours.


  • Ideally within two hours (maximum of six hours) this is to maximise absorption of colostral antibodies by the calf’s intestine as the ability to absorb rapidly declines after only one hour from birth and at 24 hours old there will be no absorption.


  • Reduce stress to newborn calves as stressed animals are far more likely to become diseased.

More on colostrum

Collection and storage – if a dam has poor quality colostrum we need to have a readily available storage of good quality colostrum that we can give as soon as possible.

Hygiene – avoid contamination of colostrum with faecal material during collection and feeding as this will put the calf at risk

1) Clean udder before collection

2) Wear gloves and clean cluster, pipes and buckets between collections

3) Transport with a lid on container

4) Pasteurisation – 60 degrees for 60 minutes has no negative impact on antibody levels but can reduce levels of bacteria such as E.coli, Salmonella and Mycoplasma bovis.

Fresh colostrum - collect it as cleanly as possible

  • Feed within one hour of collecting

  • Store for max. 24 hours in fridge

  • Store for max. 1year in freezer.

Frozen colostrum

  • Thaw in water no warmer than 50 degrees C

  • Feed at 38 degrees C

  • Do not use a microwave.

Temperature - feed at 38 degrees C

Method - unfortunately, calves left to suckle their dams are less likely to receive sufficient colostrum and therefore antibodies. So, to ensure we are delivering enough colostrum to the newborn calf AND within six hours after birth.

  • Nipple bottle fed - suck reflex will help promote the colostrum to be delivered to the true stomach to aid absorption

  • Tube feeding - full volume can be delivered to calf via an oesophageal tube, but must only be done by those competent and trained.

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