Colostrum supply for calves

A good supply after birth is decisive for longevity

Ensuring calves receive sufficient colostrum after birth is crucial for their healthy development. Find out which aspects must be considered in the first days after birth.

The term “longevity“ in the area of cattle rearing and maintenance is subject to much debate. First, of course, it’s nice when animals get very old. But an old animal isn’t always economical. The evaluation of the “production per day of life” plays a key role here. It describes the amount of milk produced by an animal for the number of days of its life. The production of a Holstein cow should be more than 18 litres per day for the departing animals. Making the animals capable of producing such a high amount for each day of their lives means that the first hours after the calves are born are already highly significant.

Hygiene in the calving stable

Fortunately it is now standard at many farms to supply the calves appropriately after birth. But there is still “room to grow”. Calves must be born into a clean environment. A lack of hygiene at the start of their lives cannot be compensated later. The immune system of a newborn calf isn’t fully formed yet. This means that the calf is not protected against pathogenic agents. This is due to the structure of the placenta. Because of its density in a cow, it doesn’t permit a direct transfer of antibodies (immunoglobulins) from the pregnant cow’s blood circulation to the calf.

Risk posed by milk bucket

Hygiene is very important when deriving the colostrum. In addition to cleaning the teats, the milk buckets pose a risk of contamination that should not be underestimated.

Antibodies for calves

To protect the calf, it therefore must be fed colostrum with many antibodies (immunoglobulins). A rule of thumb: four litres of colostrum in the first four hours. The more the calf drinks, the better. Since the abomasum of the newborn calf doesn’t have a capacity of four litres, the milk mostly runs over into the intestines. In this case, this situation is advantageous. If the colostrum was derived in a hygienic manner, the immunoglobulins are now absorbed through the still very permeable intestines.

Immunoglobulins in the intestines

Why so much in such a short time? Imagine the intestines as a line with many valves. These valves transport the milk’s immunoglobulins from the intestines directly into the blood circulation of the calf. The valves are open for about four hours after birth. When the first immune substances have passed through the openings, they give the signal: “start closing the valves”. The process is already completed after an hour. However, since the colostrum also contains many other valuable nutrients, the first milk from the cow should be fed to the calf for at least two days.

Test the quality of the colostrum

The quality of the colostrum can easily be tested with a “colostrum densimeter” (colostrum spindle). If the quality and volume of the colostrum are insufficient, it should be enhanced with a colostrum supplement, for example Miravit Oramun Plus. Sometimes not enough colostrum is available. Colostrum from animals with udder diseases or infections should never be fed to the calves. Nearly all farmers have frozen colostrum for these cases. – Important: If the animals test positive for paratuberculosis, the milk should not be fed to the calves.

With a blood sample, the farm’s veterinarian can easily test whether the calves have a good supply of colostrum. Calves with a total protein content of more than 55 grams per litre are considered well-nourished.


Supplying calves with colostrum cannot be delayed. This is why the first hours of their lives are particularly important. No feed is cheaper than colostrum and none has such an enormous and permanent effect on the animal. From a business perspective, the return of investment in this area is huge.