During the recent CalfCare webinar event run by Animal Health Ireland (AHI) in conjunction with Teagasc and Volac, colostrum management was discussed.

Teagasc researcher Dr. Emer Kennedy reminded the attendees of the importance of following the 1,2,3 rule when feeding calves this spring.

Dr. Kennedy recommended that farmers use a brix refractometer to determine colostrum quality and only feed colostrum over 22% to calves.

The main focus of the researcher’s presentation was colostrum storage and subsequent feeding to calves.

Colostrum management

Dr. Kennedy told the attendees that colostrum should be collected in a hygienic way to prevent an increased bacterial load. An increased bacterial load may impact absorption of antibodies when it is then fed to a calf.

Dr. Kennedy stressed the importance of using clean equipment when collecting and storing colostrum.

If it is stored in the fridge it should be used within 48hrs, but when frozen it can last for up to 12 months. Colostrum stored in the fridge over 48hrs should be dumped.

Dr. Kennedy recommended that farmers record the time and date that the colostrum was collected on the container.


Dr. Kennedy also spoke about the heating of stored colostrum and said that the water used for defrosting should be no more than 60°.

She recommended that farmers use two steel buckets to thaw out the colostrum; put water in one of the buckets, then place the colostrum inside the second bucket.

Farmers are then advised to put the colostrum bucket into the water bucket to thaw the colostrum.

When feeding to the calf, the colostrum should be warm as antibody absorption is increased.

Dr. Kennedy stated: “There is no issue feeding cold milk to calves once you are consistent, but colostrum should be fed warm, to maximise antibody uptake.”

Antibody uptake

Dr. Kennedy commented on some recent research carried out at Teagasc Moorepark, stating: “Obviously the gold standard is a cow calves, milk that cow and feed the calf colostrum – this is not always possible.

“Once the colostrum is taken from a healthy cow, there is no difference in antibody absorption compared to its own mother’s colostrum.

“So you are not doing the calf an injustice by feeding it another cow’s colostrum.”

It is important to note that this should not be done in herds where diseases like Johnes disease are, or may be, an issue.