Colostrum management tips

Colostrum of the right quality and quantity, given to the calf at the right time, is the cornerstone of success for any calf rearing enterprise. It supplies both essential nutrients and antibodies. A newly born calf has no protective antibodies to resist disease challenges and these can only be absorbed via colostrums. Poor health, low growth rates and high mortality are most often seen in calves that have received inadequate colostrum.

The quality of the colostrum will also be dependant on how healthy the mother is, therefore it is so important to make sure that the cow has been fed correctly and looked after property during her dry period.

Feed calves with quality colostrum

Colostrum quality varies widely from cow to cow. Colostrum from cows in second or later lactations usually contains more antibodies to help protect against disease. These animals have been exposed to a wider range of pathogens and will therefore transfer a wider range of antibodies into their colostrums.

Wherever possible, colostrums from mature cows should be stored and fed to calves born to heifers.

When considering the use of a commercial substitute, ensure that the product has been independently tested and is proven to be successful.


As a rule of thumb, a calf receiving at least 3 litres of good quality colostrum in the first 6 hours of life will have received sufficient antibodies.

Remember, a calf requires approximately 20 minutes of continuous sucking to consume 3 litres of milk from the cow. At birth, the calf's gut is 'open' which means that it can absorb the large antibody molecules. Over the first 24 hours it closes to these molecules and absorption stops. Ideally therefore the first colostrum should be given to the calf within an hour of being born.

Feeding colostrum for the first three days of life has been shown to encourage rapid gut development and lay a solid foundation for fast healthy growth. Colostrum can be stored in a refrigerator for up to a week before the antibody concentration starts to fall and it may be stored, frozen, for up to 1 year without serious loss of antibody.