Pointers for feeding clean colostrum to calves

Pointers for feeding clean colostrum to calves

Despite its health and nutritional benefits, colostrum is a potential early source of exposure to microbial pathogens, according to leading USA youngstock specialist, Dr Sandra Godden, Professor of Dairy Population at the University of Minnesota.

New born calves rely on the passive absorption of 150g to 200g of colostral immunoglobulins (IgG) within the first few hours after birth to provide protection against infectious disease challenge early in life.

However, microorganisms may be present in colostrum from multiple sources including secretion from the udder, contamination during milking, storage or feeding, or by bacterial proliferation in stored colostrum.

Salmonella, Mycobacterium, Para tuberculosis (MAP or Johne's Disease), Mycoplasma, and bovine leukaemia virus are just a few of the pathogens that may be isolated from colostrum. In addition, studies have reported that high concentrations of bacteria in colostrum may be associated with decreased IgG absorption, thereby contributing to failure of passive transfer. Consequently, recommendations are for harvesting and feeding colostrum with fewer than 100,000 cfu/mL Total Plate Count.

A first step in investigating the cleanliness of colostrum is to submit frozen samples to a laboratory that will do multiple dilutions and give an actual plate count (cfu/mL). If 80% of samples come back with a Total Plate Count exceeding 100,000 cfu/mL, or a Total Coliform Count exceeding 10,000 cfu/mL,  then action needs to be taken.

Colostrum use protocols

The following routine practices should be adopted in order to optimise the opportunity to milk and feed clean colostrum.
1. Remove the calf from the dam within 30 to 60 minutes of calving and before suckling; a calf is likely to eat pathogens from contaminated teat skin of the dam while trying to nurse.

2. Properly clean and disinfect the udder prior to milking the first colostrum - use the same udder prep procedures as you do your lactating cows.

3. If you know the dam has tested positive or is suspected of having a disease that can be transmitted through colostrum, for example Johne's disease or Mycoplasma, then do not feed her colostrum to the calf.

In such cases, feed either previously stored refrigerated or frozen colostrum from healthy cows or 150g to 200g of IgG from a colostrum replacement. Select a product that has demonstrated efficacy in independently conducted controlled field studies.

4. Do not pool raw colostrum; use the 'one cow to one calf' rule. This way, if a cow is sub-clinically infected without you knowing it, you will limit the risk of exposure to only one calf instead of multiple calves.

5. Minimize colostrum contamination from dirty equipment; this requires proper cleaning and sanitising of the milking bucket, storage buckets or bottles, feeding bottles, and nipples and/or oesophageal tube attachments. Cleaning and sanitising should follow the same basic steps as for your parlour including:

- warm water rinse
- hot water wash with detergent or bleach while scrubbing well with a brush
- hot water rinse with acid
- inverting the equipment to drain and dry

Many producers avoid contaminated storage equipment by using disposable storage bags whereby fresh colostrum is dispensed into single-use disposable bags.

6. If you store colostrum, refrigerate or freeze it as quickly as possible to prevent bacterial proliferation. If refrigerating, aim to feed it within two days of collection.

Colostrum heat treatment advice

Heat treatment is one additional approach to reducing microbial contamination. Heating colostrum at 140°F for 60 minutes eliminates important pathogens including Mycoplasma bovis, Escherichia coli, and Salmonella. Heat treatment also significantly reduces Johne’s disease, total bacteria counts and total coliform counts, while maintaining colostrum IgG concentrations and nutrient composition.

Research findings from the University of Minnesota have reported that calves fed heat-treated colostrum experienced short-term benefits including improved IgG passive transfer and reduced illness, in particular scours in the pre-weaning period. “However so far, we have found no benefit of feeding heat-treated colostrum on longer-term outcomes including transmission risk of Johne's disease, milk production in the first and second lactation, and longevity within the herd,” says Dr Godden. “Research is continuing to investigate if we can further improve the process used to heat-treat colostrum.”
British Dairying, July 2017, Vol 23, No. 9  Back to All News