Colostrum replacements

A colostral supplement should be considered when maternal colostrum is of poor quality, if it is contaminated by pathogens, or if fresh or frozen colostrum is unavailable. Feed colostrum replacers on the same schedule as you would regular colostrum.

Dr. Sheila McGuirk, a professor at the University of Wisconsin School of Veterinary Medicine, has put together a list of the advantages and disadvantages of feeding a colostrum replacement product:

Advantages of feeding a colostrum replacement product:

  • Readily available and conveniently packaged
  • Easy to mix in two quarts of water
  • The above two reasons frequently result in administration sooner than regular colostrum
  • No bacterial contamination or transfer of contagious disease
  • Adequate antibody levels can be acquired
  • Calf health is not compromised

Disadvantages of feeding colostrum replacement product:

  • Immunoglobulin levels are lower than colostrum
  • Though the product has nutritional supplements added, it is not like colostrum
  • Non–specific immune factors and immune cells are not present
  • The high carbohydrate content could result in an enhanced risk for enterotoxemia if it is mixed with colostrum, rather than water.

Each calf needs to receive 150 to 200 g of antibodies (immunoglobulins or IgG) from either high-quality maternal colostrum or colostrum replacer as soon as possible (within one to two hours of birth) in order for 90 per cent of calves to have successful passive transfer of immunity. In comparison, if only 100 g of IgG is fed, you can expect 50 per cent  of calves to have insufficient immunity.

  • 100 g = two litres of good quality maternal colostrum
  • 150 g = three litres of  good quality maternal colostrum
  • 200 g = four litres of good quality maternal colostrum

If using a colostrum replacer, be sure to examine the quantity of IgG per package. You may need to offer more than one package to ensure successful passive transfer.

New research challenges the status quo for colostrum management
It is important to note that the benefits of any form of colostrum outweigh the calf getting no colostrum or low-quality colostrum. If your calf cannot have fresh, high quality, clean colostrum, don’t be afraid to use frozen or powdered but try not to use frozen or powdered as your first option unless you and your herd veterinarian have established a specific reason (such as disease control) to do this.