We save colostrum from our milking cows and goats to give young that don’t get enough of this essential immunity booster

The first step in insuring a decent crop of lambs, calves and kids is to make sure they get the best quality colostrum as soon after birth as possible. First we have to understand what colostrum is and how to produce the best we can.

Colostrum is the first milk a mammal produces. It is produced for the first 24 hours after giving birth and is gradually replaced by milk. Colostrum is special because it contains three types of immunoglobulins. They are IgG, IgM and IgA. Each has a specific role in the immune system.

The primary role of IgG is to identify and help destroy invading pathogens. IgG can move out of the bloodstream and into other areas of the body where it helps identify pathogens. IgM identifies and destroys bacteria that have entered the blood. IgA attaches to membranes that line many organs, such as the intestine, and prevents pathogens from attaching and causing disease.

Colostrum packs more nutrition per ounce than milk and it is also higher in fat. This helps to prevent chilling and gives the baby a boost. Colostrum also contains growth factors, which help promote gut growth and differentiation, especially during the first 24 to 48 hours after birth.

It is important to remember that the young’s ability to absorb the immunoglobulins in colostrum decreases greatly after the first hour of life. By 24 hours of age, the ability to use the colostrum is nearly nonexistent. Veterinarians say that if colostrum is not fed in an adequate amount within the first 12 hours, it is unlikely that enough antibodies will be absorbed to give adequate immunity. Without this absorption, the young will not have any passive immunity.

Passive immunity is the passing of maternal antibodies to the young. This protection is vital for the protection of the young until its immune system is mature enough to be vaccinated or to fight infections for itself.


You’ll find many formulas to calculate the quantity of colostrum to give calves, lambs and kids. Our method is to feed the youngster as much as it wants till it drops off the nipple. If we need to resort to tube feeding, then the rule of thumb for calves is 10 per cent of their body weight within the first hour of life and a second feeding of two to three litres within the next eight hours for a 100-pound calf. The basic rule for goats and lambs is 15 per cent of their body weight every four hours.

The easiest way to make sure young receive enough high quality colostrum is to have healthy well-fed, vaccinated dams. These dams generally produce strong young that birth easily and quickly suck. A quick way to check if they have eaten is to check that the wax plugs have been removed from the dam’s teats. This can be tricky with a beef cow, so if we don’t observe a calf sucking on its own within a short time of birth, we will encourage it to do so. Sometimes they fool us by sucking their tongues next to the teat so it looks like they are sucking but aren’t. Then there are the times that a cow has twins or a sheep or goat has triplets. We like to feed these ones as much colostrum as they like along with what their dam produces just to be sure they get enough.


On our farm we save colostrum from our own stock for these emergencies. We were told to save it from mature females because they will have the highest amounts of antibodies per ounce. We have also been counseled not to use cow colostrum on our lambs. There is a rare condition called hemolytic anemia that can be caused by using cow colostrum. And because cow colostrum has 20 to 40 per cent less nutrients than ewe colostrums, we would have to feed approximately one third more volume. Since we milk both cows and goats, it is easy for us to use the goat colostrum for our lambs and kids and cow’s colostrums for our calves.

Saving your own colostrum is easy. First pick your quietest dams that have been on your farm since birth, if possible. We are lucky because we milk for the house, so whenever a Jersey or goat freshens we let the young eat their fill then we save the extra. I strain it through a cloth to remove all the foreign matter and then store cow colostrum in two-litre bottles. We store goat colostrum in smaller water bottles or I make ice cubes out of it and then store them in freezer bags. Our neighbor told us to freeze the bottles on their sides so the cream settles along the full side of the bottle. Smaller bottles and ice cubes are easier to use for lambs and goats, and they thaw fast.

You can store colostrum in the deep freeze for a year without it degrading. It should be defrosted and warmed in warm water, not hot, and shouldn’t be defrosted in the microwave. Microwaving can cause hot spots, which will kill the antibodies and decrease the benefits.

Knowing how vitally important colostrums is to the survival of the young, we made the choice to save our own. You’ll find many commercial colostrum replacers on the market, but we have no personal experience with them. We believe it is worth a little extra effort to save our own colostrum full of antibodies to the pathogens that we have on our farm.

Debbie Chikousky farms at Narcisse, Man.

E-mail her at [email protected]

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