• Meg Simpson

All that is gold does not glitter

With calving coming up it's a good time to refresh on the three "Q's" of colostrum feeding.

We know how important is is that the newborn calf doesn't have a developed immune system at birth, so they rely on the absorption of antibodies from colostrum to protect them while their immune system builds. Studies have shown that up to 2/3rds of calves in NZ are not getting enough of the good stuff to provide them with the required levels of antibodies, even if they are being left on

mum for the first 24 hours.

So our selection and management of colostrum becomes vital to giving these calves the best possible start.


The ability of a calf's gut to absorb the antibodies from the colostrum decrease rapidly after birth, so it's important that we are getting the good stuff into them as soon as possible. Ideally every calf should be getting colostrum within the first 12 hours of life (but ideally less).


The amount of gold colostrum that a calf needs to drink to maximise antibody absorption will depend on the quality of colostrum, and the time since birth (the ability to absorb the antibodies). Ideally a calf needs to drink 10-15% of it's body weight in good colostrum. for many calves this can mean 3-5 litres.

QUALITY There's a whole lot of factors that come into play affecting the quality of the colostrum that the cows produce. Some we can't impact like the cow factors, but we can test the quality of the colostrum to make sure we are using the right stuff, and we can manage collection and storage of it to ensure it remains as high quality.

Brix testing - using a brix refractometer (you'll be able to get one of these from your vets or rural supply store).

- Gold colostrum (Brix >22%) - the BEST first feed

- Poorer quality gold colostrum (Brix 18-21%) - should only be used for the first feed when there is no higher quality gold available

Transition milk (Brix <18%) - should not be fed as first feed milk unless there is no other option. But perfect to be pooled for older calves.


Ideally we would have great quality colostrum, fresh when needed but this isn't always the case, so the best ways of storing it to minimise bacterial loading on it are:

  1. Refrigerate - should keep for 2 days.

  2. Add potassium sorbate - should last up to 7 days if refrigerated

  3. Freeze - can last up to 12 months (defrost in a warm water bath - not boiling water, or in the microwave!)


Have a talk to your vets about FPT testing - it's a simple blood test that they can then assess what proportion of calves are receiving adequate antibody transfer. It's typically done on calves between one and seven days old.

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