Extension and Ag Research News


Correct Colostrum Handling, Storage Critical

NDSU’s Extension beef cattle specialist offers advice on making sure newborn calves receive enough colostrum.

Some cows don’t produce an adequate amount of colostrum for their newborn calves.

That means producers will need to provide those calves with stored colostrum or fresh colostrum from other cows, according to Greg Lardy, North Dakota State University Extension Service beef cattle specialist.

Ensuring that newborn calves get enough colostrum is important because it contains antibodies and immunoglobulins necessary to protect calves from disease until their own immune system is totally functional.

“For optimum results, colostrum should be collected from cows within 24 hours of calving and fed fresh,” Lardy says.

However, producers can collect colostrum at calving, freeze it and use it later.

To facilitate storage and thawing, producers may want to store colostrum in zipper-top, resealable plastic bags or plastic containers with lids that fit tightly, Lardy says. The bags or containers will store flat in the freezer and producers can use a size (1 or 2 quarts) that makes thawing individual “servings” of colostrum easier.

Colostrum can be stored frozen for up to one year. However, frost-free freezers may not be the best storage option since they go through freezing and thawing cycles to eliminate frost buildup. This freeze-thaw cycle is not ideal for long-term colostrum storage and reduces the length of time colostrum can be stored effectively.

Lardy also advises producers to check the temperature of their freezer for long-term storage. It should be minus 5 F or lower.

The antibodies and immunoglobulins in colostrum are proteins, so correct thawing is important to prevent colostrum from being damaged, Lardy says. Frozen colostrum should be thawed slowly. Here are two methods he suggests:

  • Place the container of frozen colostrum in warm water (110 F) and stir the colostrum every five minutes. The colostrum should be warmed to 104 to 110 F.
  • Thaw the colostrum in a microwave oven. Set the oven at no more than 60 percent power for gentle thawing. Agitate or stir the colostrum frequently to assure even thawing and warming. This is important since many microwaves do not heat material evenly. Warm the colostrum to 104 F.

Colostrum should not be thawed and refrozen.

“As a general rule of thumb, a calf should receive 5 percent to 6 percent of its body weight as colostrum within the first six hours of life,” Lardy says. “That same amount should be fed again when the calf is about 12 hours old.”

Colostrum weighs approximately 8 pounds per gallon. For an 80-pound calf, this equates to approximately 2 quarts (4 pounds) of colostrum per feeding.

Lardy recommends producers make sure the cows from which they obtain colostrum are free of Johne's disease, or Myobacterium paratuberculosis. Johne's disease can spread to herds through infected colostrum.

NDSU Agriculture Communication

Source:Greg Lardy, (701) 231-7660, gregory.lardy@ndsu.edu
Editor:Ellen Crawford, (701) 231-5391, ellen.crawford@ndsu.edu
Creative Commons License
Feel free to use and share this content, but please do so under the conditions of our Creative Commons license and our Rules for Use. Thanks.