Colostrum is the number one, most important factor in keeping calves alive. Since calves are born with no immunity, most will not survive without quality colostrum. Most cattlemen are not as aggressive as they need to be in making sure calves receive quality colostrum. Three keys to having quality colostrum for beef calves include maternal nutrition, maternal vaccination, and environment. The first key to quality colostrum is to make sure the cow is on a good nutritional program. Dr. Thompson recommends working with a beef cattle nutritionist to be sure pregnant cows are getting everything they need. This service is available free of charge at the Texas A&M beef cattle centers across the state and you may want to check with other university agricultural extension programs where you live. Secondly, make sure your cows are vaccinated 3-5 months prior to calving so the cows will have antibodies to diseases in their milk and pass that on to the calves. Lastly, make sure the cattle are calving in as clean and warm of an environment as possible. If the cows are calving in a cold, wet, muddy area the number of infectious agents will likely overcome a calf’s immunity.
Timing of colostrum delivery is also important. On drovers.com, Dr. Peggy Thompson from Boehringer Ingelheim says the clock starts ticking when the calf is born. Although some absorption of colostrum occurs up to 24 hours, the majority is absorbed within the first six hours. It is vital to make sure all calves are nursing well at four hours after being born. If they are not, the cow should be milked and the calf should be fed. The colostrum must be of good quality to be effective. In addition to antibodies, the calf also gets vitamins, minerals, and fats from the mother’s colostrum. If you are seeing multiple calves with scours or pneumonia in the first three weeks of life, a lack of quality colostrum could be the problem.