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Colostrum ensures a successful start in life

Kalb bei Kolostrumgabe

A rapid supply of high-quality colostrum antibodies is decisive when it comes to calf performance. Learn here how you can assess the quality of colostrum using a refractometer.
Supplying the calf with antibodies through colostrum determines as early as in the first hours of life how successful and healthy the breeding and further life of a calf will be. The full potential must be exploited. One calf should receive about 200 g of antibody in the first few hours of life through colostrum. This presents an enormous challenge to the management. On the one hand, the antibody content in colostrum drops rapidly in the hours after calving. On the other hand, the capacity of the intestine to absorb the antibodies decreases hour by hour (see Fig. 1). Therefore, it is important to act quickly and assess the quality of colostrum as well as possible.

1. Use refractometer

With the refractometer, the quality of colostrum can be determined quickly and easily in four steps:

  • If the refractometer is new, it must be calibrated before the first use (see instructions for use of the respective refractometer).
  • Add one to two drops of colostrum to the refractometer.
  • Close the cover plate so that the milk spreads over the surface.
  • Read the Brix value at the point where the white turns into the blue area.

2. Assessing quality

Good colostrum should be at least 22 Brix percent. This corresponds to an antibody content of around 75 grams per litre of colostrum. However, a high Brix value is only useful if the colostrum is fed within the first few hours of life. After that, the calf can no longer absorb the antibodies. Figure 2 shows an overview of the assessment of quality.

3. Taking measures

  • If the Brix value is too low, the following aspects should be considered: forage for the dry cow: Only cows that are sufficiently supplied with nutrients, vitamins and trace elements in the dry period produce sufficient colostrum.
  • The age of the cows: The Brix values increase with the age of the cow, as it encounters more and more pathogens in the course of life and forms the corresponding antibodies.
  • Time of first milking after calving: Colostrum must be milked and drunk within the first 3-4 hours.
  • Special milk enhancers improve the supply of immunoglobulins
Antibody levels of colostrum
Fig. 1: Antibody levels of colostrum and gut capacity decrease rapidly
Overview of the assessment of quality of colostrum
Fig. 2: Overview of the assessment of quality of colostrum
Evaluator for a strong immune system
KALBI FERM - the evaluator for a strong immune system