Cows and Crops, April 2017


In this issue:

Upcoming Events

No-till Tuesday Webinars

Some of you may have tuned in to these, but in case you missed it, here is a link to the recorded webinars. John Jemison and I did the most recent one focused on no-till soils.

For those of you considering switching to no-till, the next webinar on Tuesday, May 2 will feature Jeff Sanders discussing no-till equipment and set-up. Register for the webinar.

Colostrum — Not Just Antibodies Anymore

By David Marcinkowski

We have known for a long time about the importance of giving a calf colostrum ASAP after it’s born so it gains adequate antibody protection from diseases in early life.  However recent research indicates that there may be a whole host of other reasons why colostrum is important.

Gold Standards of Colostrum Management

First let’s review the current recommendations for colostrum management. In 2016 the Dairy Calf and Heifer Association (DCHA) published their “Gold Standards” for colostrum management.

The following are their recommendations to maximize calf immunity:

Colostrum Quality

  • Harvesting procedures should result in clean, wholesome colostrum that is free of infectious pathogens and low in bacteria.
  • Colostrum should be free of blood, debris and mastitis
  • Colostrum should be disease-free
  • Test for quality with a colostrum tester or IgG test
  • Target bacteria count (also known as standard plate count) is <100,000 cfu/ml
  • In cases where clean, high-quality maternal colostrum is unavailable, feed commercial colostrum replacer

Quantity and Timing

  • First-feeding of colostrum should equal 10% of body weight and be fed in the first 2 hours of life. For example, a 90-lb. calf should receive 4 quarts of colostrum.

Evaluation of Colostrum Management

  • Target immunity level of animals at 2 to 7 days of age is:
    • a total blood protein level > 5.2 g/dL colostrum-fed calves; or
    • a serum IgG of >10.0 g/L
  • Do calves meet the standards for mortality, morbidity and growth found in Table 1.?

Table 1. Mortality, Morbidity and Growth Standards for Dairy Calves

Age of Calf
Death Loss
Percent Treated for Scours Percent Treated for Pneumonia Growth Rate
1 – 60 <5% <25% <10% Double Birthweight by 60 days
61 – 120 <2% <2% <15% 2.2*
121 – 180 <1% <1% <2% 2.0*

*Growth rate less for Jersey calves

The DCHA standards are excellent guidelines that all dairy farms should strive for, however we know from numerous studies and surveys that a significant number of farms fail to achieve some of these standards.

The 2014 NAHMS Dairy Survey of farms from across the US found that only 42% of Holstein calves received the required 4 quarts of colostrum at the first feeding. They also found that only 15.5% of farms routinely tested colostrum for quality and 6.2% of farms routinely monitored serum protein levels in calves to assess passive transfer of antibodies. The 2007 survey found 19.2% of calves tested had insufficient blood antibody levels to provide adequate immunity from disease.

You’ll notice the standards also include a maximum bacteria count of 100,000 /ml for colostrum as well. Colostrum is an excellent medium for bacterial growth. Bacterial populations in colostrum kept at room temperature double every 20-30 minutes. In a 2007 survey of Pennsylvania herds the average bacteria count in the colostrum fed to calves was nearly 1 million cfu/mL. This was 10 times higher than the DCHA standard. There findings indicate the need for better handling and cooling of the colostrum on farms to reduced bacterial growth.

Nutritional Boost

Up until now we have talked about colostrum as it affects the immunity of the calf, however colostrum is also packed with nutrients that give the newborn calf a boost.

Table 2. Colostrum Composition

Item Milking Milk
1 2 3
Specific Gravity 1.056 1.040 1.035 1.032
Solids % 23.9 17.9 14.1 12.9
Protein % 14.0 8.4 5.1 3.1
Casein % 4.8 4.3 3.8 2.5
IgG, 48.0 25.0 15.0 0.6
Fat % 6.7 5.4 3.9 3.7
Lactose % 2.7 3.9 4.4 5.0
Vitamin A ug/L 2950 1900 1130 340

From Foley and Otterby, 1978

As you can see from Table 2, colostrum contains four times more protein, and nearly twice as much solids and fat as whole milk. Since fat contains much more energy than either carbohydrates or proteins, the higher fat content of colostrum gives the calf more available energy to deal with the stresses of early life. Much of the protein in that first colostrum is in the form of antibodies, however colostrum also contains higher levels of other milk proteins. These easily digested milk proteins may give the calf’s body a large dose of amino acids that the calf can quickly utilize to live and grow. Studies have shown that calves that continue to receive colostrum for several days after birth grow faster than calves that received either transition milk or whole milk.

Other Things in Colostrum

It is estimated that milk and colostrum is a combination of more than 100,000 different chemical substances. Some are directly transferred from the cow’s blood stream while others are manufactured by the milk producing cells in the udder. Colostrum contains higher levels of proteins, immunoglobulins, peptides, hormones, growth factors, enzymes, minerals and vitamins as well as a whole host of other bioactive compounds. Some of the major components have been studied quite closely while some of the smaller components, scientists are just starting to learn a little about.

We do know that colostrum has major impacts on the small intestines. There is an increase in the size, protein synthesis and the activity of certain enzymes in the intestines that does not occur if animals are given milk rather than colostrum. This is probably due to the effect a number of the hormones and growth factors have on the GI tract which then improve the calf’s ability to absorb nutrients from consumed feed and improve the feed efficiency. This seems particularly true of glucose, which is higher in blood of colostrum fed calves. This glucose, derived mainly from the lactose in the milk or milk replacers, puts the calf in a higher energy state enabling them to better withstand cold temperatures and stresses.

These metabolic changes due to colostrum feeding certainly have a positive effect on the growth of the calf for the first few months of life, however some researchers believe that the effects are much longer than that. Several studies have shown that calves receiving a high plane of nutrition in the first two months of age, produced 1,000 to 3,000 lbs. more milk in first lactation. Colostrum may play an important role in the ability of calves to achieve this higher plane of nutrition. Not everyone in the research community acknowledges these long term effects, however even the short term effects of colostrum feeding are more than enough justification for dairy producers to follow the DCHA gold standards of colostrum management.

4-H Dairy Judging Contest Results

On April 8, 2017, 4-H Youth from around the state gathered for the State 4-H Dairy Judging Contest. Jersey judging started in the morning at the Lowell Family Farm, owned and operated by Dana and Seri Lowell’s in Buckfield. The group then travel to Pineland Farms Inc. for the judging of Holsteins and oral reasons. Contestants judged 6 classes of cattle with two sets of oral reasons. In the Cloverbud competition, ages 8 and under, the winner was Katarina Leach from Arundel. In the Junior competition, the winner was Camryn Caruso from Gorham. And Senior competition was won by Calli-Ann Leach from Arundel. In addition to Calli-Ann, the team which will represent Maine at the Big E will include Alyvia Caruso of Gorham, Emma Hawkes of  Westbrook and Jaymee Rankin of  Cornish. Thank you to the Lowell’s and Pineland for allowing the youth to judge their cattle. Congratulations to all the winners and best of luck at the Big E!

Dairy Situation and Outlook, April 20, 2017

By Bob Cropp, University of Wisconsin Cooperative Extension

Download the PDF.

Northeast Milk Price Forecasts, 2016‐2017

By Bob Wellington, Agrimark Inc., April 17, 2017

Download the PDF.