Feeding the right amount of high-quality colostrum leads to better long-term performance and production

LifeStart Pillars

Colostrum Management
Weaning Strategies
Calf to heifer

Colostrum management for dairy calves

If calves achieve a blood serum IgG level higher than 10 mg/ml, then the transfer of passive immunity through colostrum has been successful. If calves do not receive the high-quality colostrum needed to protect them against disease, and their serum IgG is lower than 10 mg/ml (meaning failure of passive immunity transfer), the results are poorer health, lower growth rates and, ultimately, higher mortality rates. That’s why aggressive colostrum management is so important for dairy calves.


Colostrum as nutrition for calves

In addition to the critically important IgGs colostrum introduced into a calf's system, high-quality colostrum is also quite nutrient-dense. It contains about twice as much dry matter and five times as much protein as whole milk, and it has a higher fat and vitamin content too. Colostrum is also rich in bioactive compounds, such as hormones and growth factors, which contribute to the quality of a calf's development, growth and performance.

Lifestart colostrum management

As the calf's ability to absorb the antibodies present in the colostrum rapidly reduces within the first 24 hours of life, it’s important to feed a good amount of high-quality colostrum before this window narrows. Current LifeStart recommendations for newborn dairy calves include an initial feeding of 3 to 4 litres of high-quality colostrum as soon as possible, preferably within one hour of birth. An additional 2 litres should be fed six hours later and, where possible, an additional 1 to 2 litres can be fed at 12 hours after birth. Research has shown that feeding the right amount of high-quality colostrum during the right time frame not only ensures better health and growth for young dairy calves but, when coupled with a higher plane of nutrition preweaning, also leads to better long-term performance and production.

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Trouw Nutrition is dedicated to optimize calf rearing principles by developing science based solutions that will enable dairy farmers to produce in a more sustainable way. Together with our global network of scientific institutes, we share solutions to deal with common challenges of the dairy industry.

In 2014 Trouw Nutrition initiated the Kempenshof LifeStart trial in which calves are monitored from birth until the end of their productive life. This trial still continues today.

Our team will share their latest findings and results as well as other important information related to calf rearing from around the world.

LifeStart Studies on Colostrum Management

Relation between colostrum characteristics and colostrum quality measured with a Brix refractometer

Only 65% of Dutch colostrum samples was of good quality, heifers or cows yielding more than 8 litres of milk did not have poorer quality colostrum

Effect of colostrum intake and milk feeding on pre and post-weaning feed efficiency

Non-nutritive and non-immune factors in colostrum increase the efficiency of intensive feeding schedules and have subtle effects on appetite regulation.

Ensuring each calf gets high quality colostrum by using a Brix refractometer

Calves should be fed colostrum with a Brix value of  22%. If the Brix value is below 18%, colostrum should be discarded.

Effects of colostrum quality and milk quantity fed

Colostrum contains a number of important growth factors. Good colostrum management and higher planes of nutrition lead to higher average daily gain and higher milk production.

Colostrum contains more than just immunoglobulins

Colostrum management is crucial for passive immune transfer. Colostrum also contains a lot of hormones and growth factors that improve the development of the immune system, feed efficiency and future reproductive performance.

Doubling colostrum intake improves health, growth and milk yield

Doubling colostrum intake after birth leads to better health, growth and higher milk production during first and second lactation

Colostrum and milk pasteurisation improve the health status of dairy calves

If dairy calves are fed the correct amounts of colostrum, pasteurisation of colostrum and milk leads to an additional improvement of health and a reduction of mortality.

The correct colostrum amount varies by weight

Calves were fed an amount of colostrum of 7%, 8.5% or 10% of their bodyweight. Serum IgG was the highest in the 8.5% group. Feeding transition milk, in addition, resulted in additional health improvements.

LifeStart Themes

Metabolic Programming
Glucose metabolism
Role of fat in calf nutrition
Lactobalance, hydration, and osmoregulation
Most LifeStart science articles on this site relate to a particular stage of the life of a calf or dairy cow. However, some general themes are not related to a particular stage of life. For a full understanding of LifeStart science, please review the information related to the 4 themes above: