"Quenliness" - The new Q of colostrum management
Feeding new born calves clean colostrum is very important for calf health.
We are all familiar with the three Q’s of colostrum management to keep calves healthy: Quality (level of immunoglobulins or Ig), Quantity (how much is fed) and Quickly (how fast after birth it is fed). The goal is to get 4 quarts of high quality colostrum into a calf as soon after birth as possible – never more than 6 hours after birth.
However, research at the University of Minnesota shows that there may a new factor in calf sickness and deaths when it comes to colostrum management – quenliness (cleanliness). Dr. Sandra Godden, Associate Professor at the College of Veterinary Medicine, conducted a field study on 12 farms to determine what effect bacteria count had on calf serum IgG levels, sickness and death. They collected samples of colostrum before feeding to analyze for total bacteria, coliforms and IgG’s. Calf blood was sampled for total proteins and IgG levels. They also monitored calf sickness and deaths.
Not surprisingly, calves that received high quality colostrum had higher serum IgG levels. They also found NO relationship between bacteria count in the colostrum and calf serum IgG levels. Now for the rest of the story. When adjusted for serum IgG levels, calves that received colostrum with above recommended levels of coliform bacteria were 1.2 times more likely to get sick and 1.3 times more likely to die before 8 weeks of age (Figure 1).
This research indicates that cleanliness of colostrum is another important factor in calf health. In a follow-up study, Godden and her colleagues ran an experiment at the University of Minnesota transition management facility located near Baldwin, WI to identify where, during the harvest and storage of colostrum, bacterial contamination is most likely to occur. They did a full prep procedure on cows before milking, disassembled and washed with detergent and acid all milking equipment between cows, and fed colostrum within 15-30 minutes of milking. Even with this excellent procedure, 36% of the samples given to the calves had bacteria counts higher than the recommended 100,000 CFU/ml (the number of Colony Forming Units per milliliter on a standard plate count is an indication of unsanitary production practices). They found that the majority of their contamination came from the milking equipment and bucket. There are several places in the harvesting and feeding of colostrum where possible contamination could occur. Where is contamination most likely to occur? Here are some questions you should consider on your farm:
- Are cows given a complete prep procedure before harvesting colostrum? In a nationwide study by the National Animal Health Monitoring Service, it was reported that less than 60% of managers clean the udder before harvesting colostrum.
- Is milking equipment, including buckets, thoroughly cleaned and dried between milkings?
- Is colostrum rapidly cooled or fed immediately after milking? Bacteria numbers double every 20 minutes under ideal growing conditions. Colostrum low in bacteria can quickly become high in bacteria if left in a warm environment before feeding. It is recommended to either feed immediately after milking or rapidly cool the colostrum. Place the colostrum in a refrigerator in small containers with a large surface area that can cool quickly. Two-quart freezer bags work well. Mark the freezer bags with the cow number, time and date. Even under refrigeration, bacteria counts continue to grow and most milk will reach unacceptable levels of bacteria within 72-96 hours. Ideally, feed colostrum within a day or two after harvesting. If there is a desire to store longer, research shows that adding the preservative potassium sorbate along with refrigeration can be effective at keeping bacteria levels low.
- Is feeding equipment cleaned and sanitized between feedings?
- Are calves kept in a clean environment after calving? Calves instinctively suck on fences, gates and other equipment after birth. If these are contaminated, they have the potential to contaminate the calf’s intestine with bacteria.
If pre-weaning calf health is lower than expected, examine all aspects of colostrum management. In addition to the three Q’s of colostrum – consider thinking about quenliness (cleanliness) as a key component to calf health.