Calf colostrum: The clock is ticking

Focus on four key areas to help give calves a strong start.
Chilton, Wis. [September 6, 2017] – Whether you raise 5, 50 or 500 calves, quality colostrum is vital to give calves a strong start. Calves are born with an immature immune system and have little to no immunity against diseases. That’s why they need to receive quality colostrum soon after birth.
Colostrum contains antibodies, known as immunoglobulins (such as IgG), which help protect calves against diseases. Compared to whole milk, colostrum has twice as much dry matter, three times as many minerals and five times as much protein. It is also higher in energy and vitamins. The high nutrient content in colostrum is especially important because newborn calves have low reserves of these nutrients.[1]
“Quality colostrum helps set calves up for long-term health, growth and productivity. The care and detail that go into delivering colostrum to newborn calves in their first hours of life is crucial to future performance,” says Julian (Skip) Olson, DVM, technical services manager for Milk Products.
Here are four areas to keep in mind for colostrum success:
1. Quality is key
“While high-quality colostrum containing a large percentage of IgGs is usually thick and creamy, don’t rely on appearance alone to predict quality,” says Olson. “A Brix refractometer or a hydrometer based colostrum tester can help you quickly estimate colostrum quality.”
The Dairy Calf and Heifer Association Gold Standards recommend the following IgG levels:
  • Brix refractometer: 22 or greater for large breeds; 18 or greater for smaller breeds like Jerseys. A Brix value of 22 corresponds to about 50 milligrams per milliliter (mg/mL) or 50 grams/liter (g/L).
  • Colostrum tester (Colostrometer™): about 50 mg/mL if in the “green” zone. The instrument rises as colostrum cools and sinks in the colostrum as it becomes warmer.
For greatest accuracy, measure colostrum cooled to 72 degrees Fahrenheit. At lower temperatures, colostrum testers can overestimate levels; at higher temperatures, they can underestimate levels.
2. Quantity matters too
Within the first two hours of life, a calf should receive colostrum equal to 10 percent of its bodyweight. For example, a 90-pound calf should receive 4 quarts of colostrum, which weighs about 9 pounds.
“Ideally, after the first colostrum feeding, feed quality transition milk harvested up to 72 hours after calving – about six feedings,” says Olson. “While colostrum contains the highest concentration of beneficial factors, transition milk will continue to be higher in solids, fat, protein, vitamins and immunoglobulins than standard milk. After feeding transition milk, you can begin feeding milk replacer or whole milk.”
3. Timing is everything
Within 24 hours after birth, a calf’s gut begins to close making it difficult to absorb antibodies in colostrum. Studies have shown at six hours after birth calves absorb 66 percent of IgGs from colostrum. But, 36 hours after birth calves were only able to absorb 7 percent of IgGs.[2]
“This information shows how important it is to feed newborn calves colostrum as quickly as possible,” says Olson. “The first two hours is the ideal time window for calves to absorb antibodies. If this is not possible, aim for four hours.”
4. When there isn’t enough
When maternal colostrum isn’t high enough quality, or you don’t have enough of it, there are other options. In these situations, you can use frozen colostrum or colostrum replacer.
“It’s an emergency situation when you do not have the proper amount of colostrum for a newborn calf. Colostrum replacers can help if you don’t have access to quality frozen colostrum,” says Olson. “Colostrum replacers are a viable alternative to build the immune system of a calf. Keeping colostrum replacer on hand will help you stay prepared for the arrival of newborn calves.”
Look for colostrum replacers made from bovine colostrum, like Sav-A-Caf® colostrum replacer.
“Your role in helping protect calves from disease by properly feeding colostrum is important,” says Olson. “Pay close attention to the details to help calves build immunity and get off to a healthy start.”
Learn more about calf nutrition at or like My Farm Journey on Facebook.
Milk Products, based in Chilton, Wis., manufacturers high-quality animal milk replacers and young animal health products. Using its innovative manufacturing technology, Milk Products produces over 700 unique animal nutrition products for numerous independent feed manufacturers, wholesale distributors, and large retail chains. Our customers choose whether these products are sold under their private label brand, or under the Sav-A-Caf® brand which is manufactured and marketed by Milk Products.
[1] Heinrichs A, Jones C. 2003. Feeding the Newborn Dairy Calf. The Pennsylvania State University.
[2] Ag-Info Centre: The Importance of Colostrum for Calves. 2004. [accessed 2017 Aug 17].$department/deptdocs.nsf/all/faq8021

Throw your calves a weaning-time potluck

Tips to get calves eating quickly and over the stressors of weaning.
Shoreview, Minn. [September 5, 2017] – You know the feeling of being at a big party or potluck? Everywhere you turn there’s food, food and guess what? More food. You think, “This must be heaven!” The same should be true for your weaned calves. They should encounter feed and water at every turn during weaning so they find feed sources and start eating and drinking quickly.
“When cattle are stressed they often quit eating,” says Lee Dickerson, Ph.D. and senior cattle consultant with Purina Animal Nutrition. “The sooner you can get your calves to eat, the less likely they are to get sick. A few adjustments to your weaning-time nutrition program can make a huge difference.”
Here are four nutrition tips to help get your calves eating quickly:
1. Encourage consumption
For the first five to seven days of weaning, target calves to consume a total diet equaling 2.5-3% of their bodyweight. The total diet can consist of a purchased complete feed, or it can be a supplement paired with your existing forage. Let calves continue building intake through the 21 to 28 day weaning program to help optimize performance. There are hand-fed and self-fed complete feeds. No matter which you choose, achieving target consumption is key to keep calves healthy.
“You can also achieve these goals by feeding free-choice forages of over 8% crude protein along with a palatable supplement feed and tubs,” says Dickerson. “When calves come to the feed bunk for the first time they need to find a palatable feed which makes them want to come back for more. Any of these weaning programs can help achieve consumption.”
Starter feeds with intake control properties can also help stimulate more consistent consumption of feed throughout the day. Think of it as if you were grazing continuously with a small plate at a potluck instead of eating one large plate of food. Feeds with intake control properties encourage calves to eat several small meals throughout the day rather than one or two big meals a day. 
2. Evaluate bunk space, management
Each calf needs about a foot of bunk space so all calves can be at the feed bunk at the same time. If you’re using a starter feed with intake control properties in a self-feeder, each calf only needs six to eight inches of bunk space because they won’t all eat at once. Instead, they’ll eat small meals and come back at different times.
“Don’t underestimate the importance of managing your feed bunk and paying close attention to calf behavior at feed delivery,” says Dickerson. “The way calves behave at the bunk can tell you a great deal.”
If calves rush the bunk when feed is delivered, they are likely being underfed. If they don’t seem interested at feed delivery, they may be overfed or sick. If some calves are standing away from the feed bunk or are fighting to gain access to feed, you might not have enough bunk space.
Additional bunk best practices include making sure fresh feed is available consistently, cleaning out uneaten or spoiled feed and gradually making any shifts in the amount of feed delivered.
3. Make feed placement a priority
You bump into food at every turn at a potluck. With a little bit of strategy, you can ensure your calves do the same – find feed easily and start consuming.
“Placing bunks and tubs in the center of a pen can make it more challenging for calves to find them,” says Dickerson. “Bunks or self-feeders should be placed perpendicular to the fence line so when calves are rounding the pen trying to determine how to get out, they will bump into their feed.”
“Similarly, we recommend placing mineral tubs along the pen perimeter so calves encounter them as they are circulating and begin licking the tub. Licking causes salivation, which encourages further consumption of the diet.”
4. Consider water sources, cleanliness
“If your calves are suddenly moved into a pen with an automatic waterer and they’ve never used one before, you can’t expect them to walk right up and drink out of one,” says Dickerson.
It will take some time for calves to adapt to their surroundings and navigate the facilities with ease. Until then, one way to keep calves hydrated is to place some additional water tanks or tubs in the pen. Similar to feed bunk placement, water tanks or tubs should be placed along the fence line so calves will quickly find them and start drinking.
Cleanliness is also paramount to water consumption. All water sources should be checked at least daily for cleanliness and to make sure the source has adequate flow.
Weaning can be very stressful for calves, but implementing a few new nutritional strategies can help the transition be more seamless. If your calves find themselves in the middle of a potluck feast, they’ll be quicker to eat and overcome the stressors of weaning.
To find solutions that support healthy calves and more pounds, visit
Purina Animal Nutrition LLC ( is a national organization serving producers, animal owners and their families through more than 4,700 local cooperatives, independent dealers and other large retailers throughout the United States. Driven to unlock the greatest potential in every animal, the company is an industry-leading innovator offering a valued portfolio of complete feeds, supplements, premixes, ingredients and specialty technologies for the livestock and lifestyle animal markets. Purina Animal Nutrition LLC is headquartered in Shoreview, Minn., and a wholly owned subsidiary of Land O’Lakes, Inc.

WAA Tour- August 26-27th!!

Don’t forget August 10th is the deadline to reserve your spot on the WAA Tour August 26-27th!  Details are attached.

Also, if you are able to help volunteer in the Cattleman’s Steak Trailer at State Fair from 4-10pm this Friday please contact Jeff Berget at 608-726-1726 asap!  Even if you can help for 3 hours, your assistance would be appreciated!  This is a great fundraiser for our association.