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Division of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources

Cow-calf producers should start obtaining colostrum now

STILLWATER, Okla. – Cow-calf operators should start locating, obtaining and storing several doses of colostrum or colostrum replacer sure to come in handy before the first heifers start to go into labor this spring.

“It may be winter but spring calving should still be high in terms of awareness,” said Glenn Selk, Oklahoma State University Cooperative Extension emeritus cattle specialist and editor of the OSU Cow-Calf Corner newsletter.

Calves born after a difficult birth are at a high risk of failing to receive adequate colostrum by natural suckling because of greatly decreased colostrum intake.

“It is not unusual to see calves born to a prolonged stage II of parturition – delivery through the pelvic canal – suffer from severe respiratory acidosis. Acidotic calves are less efficient at absorbing colostral immunoglobulins even if artificially fed colostrum.

“The only disease protection baby calves will receive is via the passive transfer of antibodies – immunoglobulins – from the colostrum they ingest,” Selk said. “Therefore, every effort should be made to provide weak newborn calves with the best source of colostrum available via bottle suckling or tube feeding.”

Natural colostrum is still considered the best source of the immunoglobulins for disease protection for the calf.

“If there is a dairy in your area, the opportunity may exist to obtain some natural colostrum from newly freshened dairy cows,” Selk said. “Avoid obtaining colostrum from dairies known to have had an incidence of Johnes Disease.”

Fresh colostrum can be stored in 1 quart doses by putting that much in a gallon-size Ziploc bag. Lay the bags flat to freeze in the freezer. When it is time to thaw the colostrum, it will be easier and quicker to thaw, compared to 2 quarts or more in a big frozen chunk.

When the time comes to thaw the colostrum and feed it to the newborn calf, Sel recommends placing the Ziploc bag in warm water to quickly thaw it.

Also, be aware the amount of immunoglobulin ingested is a major determinant of final blood immunoglobulin concentration and disease protection. A practical "rule-of-thumb" is to feed 5 percent to 6 percent of the calf's body weight within the first six hours and repeat the feeding when the calf is about 12 hours old.

“For an 80-pound calf, this will equate to approximately 2 quarts of colostrum per feeding,” Sel said. “Consequently, if the calf is quite large, say about 100 pounds, then the amount of colostrum will need to be increased accordingly to 2.5 or 3 quarts per feeding.”

If there is no source of natural colostrum available, Selk recommends cow-calf producers purchase a few doses of a commercial colostrum replacer. Colostrum replacers contain more than 100 grams of immunoglobulin per dose.

"Always make certain to read the label before purchasing,” Selk said. “Colostrum replacers may seem expensive but the value of a live weaned calf strongly suggests every effort to keep all of them alive is worth the investment.”

Oklahoma is the nation’s fifth-leading producer of cattle and calves, according to USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service data.

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