Colostrum for Calves, Lambs & Kids


Why use a colostrum supplement or replacer?

  • Herd colostrum may be unsafe because of the presence of infectious diseases such as Johnes, BVD, BLV, Salmonella, and others.
  • Quantity or quality of available colostrum may be highly variable.
  • Not enough labour to properly collect, test, store, and feed herd colostrum.
  • In high value or high risk calves with circumstances such as dystocia or cold temperature, calves need extra, good quality colostrum fast that’s high in immunoglobulins and natural colostral fat.
  • To assure every calf receives their first feed as soon as possible after birth to cover energy and immunity needs.

Ask the Expert:

Why is colostral fat an important ingredient in preventing and treating hypothermia?

Administration of high quality colostrum containing natural colostral fat to calves as soon as possible after birth is important so they can defend themselves against cold stress. When judging colostral quality we need to consider both immunoglobulin as well as natural fat concentrations. Natural colostral fat found in maternal colostrum is unique because it is the main nutrient that fuels immediate metabolism of brown fat to generate heat. Without colostral fat, a calf will deplete its body fat reserves within hours and the risk of hypothermia is heightened. In addition to calves exposed to a cold environment, dystocia calves are also more prone to hypothermia, and they require good quality colostrum as soon as possible.

When using a colostrum product, select those that contain at least 18% natural colostral fat. Products made from blood or whey with added vegetable fats do not provide the same benefits, nor do low fat or defatted colostrum products. Always check the label for the ingredients and nutritional analysis. Products made by The Saskatoon Colostrum Company Ltd. (SCCL) are made only from natural maternal colostrum that contains the complete complement of colostral fat. They provide calves with the energy they need to survive the first critical hours after birth.

Should colostrum be fed by nipple bottle or esophageal tube?

There is considerable debate concerning the merits of nipple bottle-feeding compared to esophageal tube delivery for colostrum feeding. Nipple feeding provokes closure of the esophageal groove, thus delivering the colostrum more quickly to the absorptive surface of the intestine. Proponents of the esophageal tube point to efficiency for delivery of large volumes in the critical time period of maximal IgG absorption.

In a study at the University of Minnesota, Dr. Sandra Godden and colleagues have shown that either method can be used successfully but that the optimal method may depend upon the volume of colostrum that is fed. Calves were fed either 100 or 200 g IgG in a colostrum replacement in either 1.5 or 3.0 L volumes (respectively) by either nipple bottle or esophageal tube.

The best absorption of IgG occurred when small volumes (1.5 L) were fed by bottle and 100% of calves fed 100 g of IgG by nipple had adequate passive transfer (>10 g/L). However, it is also important to note that feeding the larger mass of IgG (200 g) resulted in considerably higher levels of passive transfer (IgG =19–20 g/L), which is likely beneficial to the calf and that these larger volumes (3.0 L) can be fed with equally good results either by nipple bottle or esophageal tube.

Why not contact a neighboring dairy for colostrum?

Colostrum from another farm can be a major threat to the biosecurity of any beef or dairy herd, as several dangerous diseases like Johne’s disease and BLV can be transmitted through colostrum. In addition, if stringent sanitation methods are not used to collect and store the colostrum, there is a substantial risk that it could be contaminated with pathogens that cause scours or pneumonia, such as E. Coli, Rotavirus, Coronavirus or Mycoplasma Bovis.

I know that calves can only absorb colostral immunity from the intestines into the blood for the first 24 hours after birth. Is there any benefit to feeding colostrum after day one?

Yes, there can be benefits from feeding smaller amounts of colostrum after day one, particularly in situations where diarrhea is a problem, because the immunoglobulins will provide local immunity in the intestines. Studies have shown that adding 5g to 10g of IgG to each feeding can help prevent and control certain types of infectious scours, particularly diarrhea caused by E. coli, rotavirus, and coronavirus. That amount of IgG can be provided by feeding 100mL to 200mL of first milking colostrum or 25g to 50g of a high quality colostrum replacer. Where a herd is having a scour problem, I recommend feeding the higher dose for about a week starting on day two or three of age. If that reduces the problem then you can try moving to the lower dose. Colostrum also provides about twice the calories as milk or milk replacer and feeding similar amounts can also be very helpful when calves are raised in conditions of cold or heat stress.

What are the ingredients in colostrum products?

Many producers assume that the principle ingredient in a product manufactured for sale as a colostrum replacement or supplement product is bovine colostrum however this is often not the case. While the products manufactured by The Saskatoon Colostrum Company Ltd. are manufactured only from colostrum most other products are formulas containing whey, egg, and in the USA, blood-derived proteins. In addition, many colostrum formulas are partially or wholly defatted and/or contain fats from other sources including vegetable fats. Producers should consult the label or the product distributor to fully understand which products are actually colostrum and which are formulas.

Can a colostrum replacer or supplement provide benefits even if herd colostrum is of sufficient quality?

Yes. A major problem with herd colostrum is the variability of both quality and quantity from dam to dam. Natural colostrum replacers or supplements deliver a consistent amount of IgG, growth factors, and nutrients such as fat, thereby reducing the variation experienced with herd colostrum and offering more consistent calf serum IgG levels. They are also easy and convenient to use, enabling calves that are at higher risk of FPT to be fed quickly and receive IgG as well as the colostral fat needed to recover body temperature. “High risk” calves include those that had a difficult birth; those at risk of cold or heat stress; twins in beef herds; and calves born to first-calf heifers; dams that leaked milk from the udder or were milked prior to calving; beef mothers with poor udder or teat conformation or which have a small volume of colostrum; dams with lower quality colostrum or that are sick or slow to recover from calving.

How should I properly cool fresh colostrum?

The warm temperature of fresh colostrum is a bacteria’s dream breeding ground, allowing their numbers to double every 20 minutes! Rapid cooling is the best way to slow down growth of potentially dangerous bacteria. The best process is to divide the collected colostrum into small amounts, 1-2 quart or 1-2 liters are convenient volumes for later feeding, and immediately place them into a refrigerator or ice bath. These small volumes will cool down rapidly, and are also easy to re-warm when needed for feeding. Another practical solution is to have several frozen, clean water bottles on hand that can be dropped into the pail of warm colostrum as a way to cool the center of the pail. Two bottles of frozen water per gallon of colostrum can achieve rapid cooling, which will dramatically slow down bacteria growth.

Which risk factors contribute to the dam producing poor quality colostrum and ultimately lead to failure of passive transfer in calves?

  •  First calf heifers
  • Heat stress, cold stress
  • Poor teat or udder confirmation
  • Leaked colostrum from the udder before calving
  • Produces a very small volume of colostrum
  • Nervous, poor mothering instinct, or rejects calf
  • Slow recovery from calving, or ill
  • Genetic differences in colostrum quality
  • Poor nutrition

Why is it important to remove newborn calves from the dam as soon as possible?

The new born heifer, the future of the dairy herd, is delivered to the world with no defense against diseases at all. Within a few hours it must consume a sufficient amount of good quality colostrum to provide it the initial defense in the form of maternal antibodies. These will slowly decay and will be replaced by the calf’s self- produced antibodies. Nevertheless, in the meantime the calf is extremely susceptible to many pathogens present in the calving pen environment. This is why any extra minute of the young heifer remaining in the calving pen exposes it to enormous amounts of pathogens that can risk its future survival and production in the herd.

Many years of research have shown that the critical moment where calves are susceptible to infection from Mycobacterium Paratuberculosis, the causative agent of the devastating Johne’s disease, is actually right after birth where calves are exposed to very small amounts of infected (and hence infectious) adult cow manure. This is often not the mother’s manure rather than another infected herdmate’s that recently calved in this pen.

Further, in some dairies the calving pen is used to host also sick cows where the risk of infectious manure is even greater. Other pathogens such as salmonella and E. coli were also found to infect calves with very low amount of manure found in the calving pen. Finally, another important reason to remove the new born calf as soon as possible is that there is no way to measure how much colostrum the calf is actually suckling directly from its mother’s udder, especially if the calf is weak and late to stand after difficult birth. On the contrary, the use of bottle or feeding tube allows us to control the amount of the colostrum fed.

Furthermore, the same pathogens mentioned above can be found both in the colostrum and on the dam’s nipple surface and hence being transmitted to the calf during its first meal. While some farmers believe that letting the cow lick its offspring helps vitalize it and hence stimulate it to stand sooner, good post natal care of calves will ensure this in addition to sufficient supply of high quality colostrum and the prevention of pathogen transmission.

How long does colostral antibody to BLV persist in calves?

When calves are fed colostrum or colostrum products containing BLV antibodies, the antibodies will generally be present for 3 to 7 months (3), depending on how much was fed, but approximately 5% of calves may remain antibody positive for as long as 9 months. Therefore purebred breeders should be aware that calves fed SCCL’s colostrum replacers or other products containing BLV antibodies, may test positive if blood tested before export or entering a breeding station. To confirm that such a result is a “false positive” test caused by feeding antibody-positive colostrum and that the calf is not infected with BLV, the calf should show a decreasing antibody titer when re-bled and tested again a minimum of 4 weeks later.

What are some ways to reduce the cost of treating scours in a herd?

  1. Increasing the non-specific resistance of newborn calves – Calves that do not ingest enough colostrum early can place the entire calf crop at higher risk because they are more prone to infection and can trigger an outbreak of diarrhea. Early identification and supplementation of those calves that are at higher risk of having failure of passive transfer can prevent scour ourtbreaks and also improve the general health and performance of the calf crop. If in doubt, feed a natural colostrum product that’s USDA approved for use as a total replacement for maternal colostrum in calves.
  2. Increasing the specific immunity of newborn calves – work with your veterinarian to vaccinate pregnant dams prior to calving to increase antibody titres in their colostrum.
  3. Monitor the calving environment – maintain a clean environment, avoid over-crowding and remove calves from contaminated areas.
  4. Reducing stress on newborn calves – if possible, allow animals to escape inclement weather since calves become cold stressed at temperatures outside the range of 13-20 °C / 55-68°F.

How long can you store your own colostrum?

After collecting and testing your own colostrum with a Brix refractometer or hydrometer, colostrum that is not going to be used for immediate feeding can be stored in two different ways; cooled in the refrigerator or frozen in a freezer.

If the colostrum is going to be fed later in the day or within 24 hours, it can be refrigerated between 1 to 1.5°C (33 to 35°F).

If the colostrum is not going to be used before 24 hours, it can be frozen within the first hour of collection at -20 to -21°C (-5°F). this colostrum could be used safely for about 6 months and some would argue that it can be used for up to a year.

It is important to remember that repeated freeze thaw cycles dramatically damage and affect the functional antibodies in colostrum and therefore life span of the frozen colostrum is reduced.

What are the best containers for storing colostrum?

The best way to store colostrum is in 1 to 2 L (quart) bags or containers because the smaller volume allows for quicker cooling to slow bacterial growth and to preserve the viability of cellular components and immunoglobulins.

What is a Veterinary Biologic?

Veterinary Biologics are typically defined as “animal health products such as vaccines, antibody products, and in vitro diagnostic test kits that are used for the prevention, treatment, or diagnosis of infectious diseases in animals”. Veterinary Biologics specifically stimulate or involve an immunologic response to infectious disease(s) unlike Veterinary Drugs which have a different mode of action. Bovine dried colostrum may be categorized as a Veterinary Biologic, Feed or Feed Additive depending on what country the product is registered or sold in; however, because SCCL manufactures our bovine dried colostrum products in Canada, we are regulated by the Canadian Food Inspection agency (CFIA), Canadian Centre for Veterinary Biologics, (CCVB). Bovine colostrum is sold only as a Veterinary Biologic in Canada and must comply with the regulations and standards for Veterinary Biologics regardless of whether SCCL sells in Canada or exports our calf, lamb and goat products around the world.

As a Veterinary Biologic, bovine colostrum is categorized as an antibody product (specifically, Bovine Immunoglobulin G or Bovine IgG) with the claim to “aid in the prevention of failure of passive transfer (FPT)” in newborn calves, lambs or goats.

How the designation "Veterinary Biologic" earned?

The facility manufacturing the Veterinary Biologic AND each product produced by the facility requires licensing by the CFIA-CCVB. Facility or Establishment Licenses and Product Licenses are required to be renewed on an annual basis once initial approval is granted. To gain licensure, a comprehensive application must be submitted, reviewed and approved by the CFIA-CCVB that proves each product meets the requirements of purity, potency, safety and efficacy in the target species and according to the label’s directions before the product can be sold or distributed in Canada or exported around the world.

The manufacturing facility or establishment must undergo a comprehensive on-site inspection including contract facilities that are used for testing, packaging, storage or contract manufacturing of the finished product. This establishment pre-licensing inspection is performed the CFIA-CCVB, and physical and administrative inspections are also required on an on-going basis of the licensed establishment and their contracts to maintain both Establishment and Product licenses.

Currently, SCCL is inspected by the CFIA-CCVB at a minimum of every 12 months.

What criteria do Veterinary Biologic products need to meet to earn it?

Colostrum as a Veterinary Biologics must meet requirements to ensure that it is pure or free from defined micro-organisms with specific specifications or limits and with tests approved by the regulatory authority; that it is potent and the active ingredient or Bovine IgG is functional and present at the indicated amount that has been proven to be effective; that it is safe to use in the target species and should not cause unwarranted reactions; and that it is effective and provides the protection or benefit that is expected and stated by the approved claim when used as directed.

Each of the purity, potency, safety and efficacy of a Veterinary Biologic must be proven to the regulatory authority prior to licensing by submitting robust research data, test results and observations that are reviewed by the regulatory authority and measured against a defined set of standards or requirements.

Do calves need additional E.coli antibodies at birth?

Newborn calves need antibodies to pathogenic E.coli immediately after birth. Most dairy cows are regularly exposed to E.coli in the environment so they have these antibodies naturally in their colostrum.  In addition, many cows are also boosted by specific vaccination in the dry cow period to enhance their E.coli antibody titers. Therefore most dairy cow colostrum transfers protective levels if calves receive adequate colostrum.

SCCL’s colostrum products are made from large pools of colostrum from many different individuals and so are guaranteed to contain a wide variety of antibodies to all agents in the dairy calf environment including protective levels to E.coli. Calves fed good quality maternal colostrum or those fed our products at suggested levels to achieve successful passive transfer will receive E.coli antibodies at these protective levels.

How reliable are brix refractometers for measuring passive transfer?

Be aware of the limitations of total serum protein or Brix assessment for evaluation of passive transfer in individual calves! Serum total protein and % Brix can be successfully used at the herd level to monitor FPT in calves; however, interpretation of individual calf values on a daily basis can be difficult due to individual variation.

The evaluation of serum total protein (STP) and serum total solid values (%Brix) by optical and digital Brix refractometers at 24 hours of life is widely used to determine the presence of failure of passive transfer in calves (FPT, serum IgG at 24h < 10 g/L). A recent study [Deelen SM J. Dairy Sci 2014; 97(6):3838] using 400 calf serum samples demonstrated a high correlation between digital Brix refractometer (% Brix), STP, and serum IgG values, suggesting either method could be used to monitor calves.

It is important to understand that while there is sufficient correlation among the measurements to be useful on a herd basis there are limitations such that both serum protein and %Brix should be used with caution for interpretation of individual calf passive transfer status.

We evaluated 157 serum samples randomly collected from calves that received maternal colostrum and analyzed at Saskatoon Colostrum Company Ltd. (SCCL) for STP, %Brix, and IgG concentration by radial immunodiffusion (RID). As in previous reports, there was a linear correlation between STP, %Brix, and serum IgG (r= 0.88 and 0.82, respectively). The sensitivity and specificity of 5.5 g/dL STP to detect FPT was 94.1% and 82.1%, respectively. The sensitivity and specificity of 8.4% Brix to detect FPT was 76.1% and 88.7%, respectively. The positive and negative predictive values of < 5.5 g/L STP to diagnose FPT were 59.2% and 98% respectively. The positive and negative predictive values of < 8.4% Brix to diagnose FPT were 61.5% and 94% respectively.

Often STP values of 5.5 g/dL and Brix of 8.4% are used as “cut-offs” for predicting adequate passive transfer.  Using these criteria most calves are correctly categorized but this was not true for all calves. In the following table are presented some individual values of %Brix, STP, and IgG in serum to illustrate this. Among the data from the 10 calves shown here all have adequate passive transfer (>10 g/L serum IgG) yet all have %Brix less than 8.4% and only one calf serum protein levels of 5.5 g/dL or greater.

Table 1: Sample of test results from individual calf serum samples

Debbie (Mobile)

Deborah Haines, DVM, PhD

Director of Research and Development – SCCL

Professor – Department of Veterinary Microbiology, Western College of Veterinary Medicine, University of Saskatchewan

As one of the co-founders of the company, Dr. Haines plays a vital role in each step of production of SCCL’s colostrum replacers. Dr. Haines is constantly contributing her expertise to academic publications including the study of the occurrence and prevention of failure of passive transfer of maternal antibody in cattle. In addition, she is a professor in the department of Veterinary Microbiology at the Western College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon, Canada

Manuel (Mobile)

Manuel Campos, DVM, MSc, PhD

Manager for Latin America – SCCL

Manuel has spent more than 25 years in the area of immunological research and development of animal health products. He worked at The Vaccine and Infectious Disease Organization (VIDO), SmithKline Beecham Animal Health, and Pfizer Central Research in Groton, CT, and currently consults to animal health and biotechnology companies.

Manuel Chamorro (Mobile)

Manuel Chamorro, DVM, MSc, PhD, DACVIM

Technical Veterinary Consultant – SCCL

Clinical Assistant Professor – Livestock Medicine and Surgery, College of Veterinary Medicine, Kansas State University

Manuel obtained his DVM from the National University of Colombia in 2003. Following four years of private dairy practice in Colombia, Manuel moved to the U. S. to pursue an internship in Food Animal Medicine and Surgery at Kansas State University. After finishing his internship in August 2008, he joined the food animal section of Auburn University as a Resident of Food Animal Internal Medicine. In 2011, Manuel finished a Masters program in BVDV and became board-certified as a Diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine in large animals. He worked as a clinical lecturer in food animal medicine and surgery at the Large Animal Teaching Hospital at Auburn University while finishing his PhD in infectious diseases of cattle with particular emphasis in calf immunology, colostrum-derived immunity, and response to vaccination. 

Kathy white (Mobile)

Kathy McIntosh, B.S.c. (Hons), PhD

Director of Compliance and Regulatory Affairs – SCCL

Kathy graduated from the University of Saskatchewan, Department of Veterinary Microbiology with a Doctorate specializing in molecular biology and immunology.  Kathy plays an important role as the regulatory liaison representing SCCL to our clients, Canadian and foreign regulatory authorities and third party auditors, and facilitates the registration or licensing of our colostrum products in Canada and around the world.

Lambs & Kids

Can bovine colostrum be fed to newborn lambs and kids (small ruminants) when colostrum from their own species is not available?

The major killers of newborn small ruminants are starvation, hypothermia, scours, and pneumonia. Therefore, the main question is how well feeding cow colostrum prevents these problems.

Colostrum is comprised of nutrients, growth factors, and immunoglobulins or antibodies that prevent infectious diseases. For the most part bovine colostrum contains the same nutrients and growth factors as are found in ewe and doe colostrum and therefore will prevent starvation if fed early and in amounts recommended to transfer immunity.

The most important nutrients that prevent hypothermia are colostral fat and lactose. On average bovine colostrum contains the same amount of lactose but is 2.5 to 3.5 times lower in fat than ewe and doe colostrum respectively. So more bovine colostrum should be fed to small ruminants born into conditions where the risk of hypothermia is high.

The colostrum selected to make The Saskatoon Colostrum Company’s colostrum products for small ruminants is high in fat and therefore these products provide good levels of energy.

Similarly, bovine colostrum contains antibodies against most of the common diseases that infect newborn small ruminants. Therefore when fed in adequate amounts bovine colostrum will prevent diseases like navel/joint ill, E. coli, rota virus, Mannheimia, Pasteurella, and parainfl uenza 3 virus.

However, bovine colostrum does not contain antibodies against two diseases that can be transmitted through colostrum from an infected dam to newborn small ruminants: ovine progressive pneumonia (OPP) in lambs and caprine arthritis encephalitis (CEA) in kids. Therefore, if those diseases are present in a herd and bovine colostrum is fed to newborns, neither colostrum nor milk from potentially infected dams should be fed to the same neonates.