Colostrum, also know as beestings, is the first and most important line of defence for a newborn calf. It’s crucial that the calf receives an adequate intake of colostrum within the first two hours of life.

The backbone of the Irish dairy industry is the heifer calves bred on your farms. Therefore, it’s important that these animals get the best start in life and hit the ground running.

Not only does colostrum provide nutrition to the calf, but it is also a source of maternal antibodies that protect the calf against infections; many of which occur in early life.

Beestings containing 50mg/ml or more of IgG (immunoglobulin G) is considered a high-quality feed for newborn calves.

Teagasc’s Tom Coll, speaking at a recent Aurivo Farm Profitability Programme walk, stated: “Some 65% of calves that go under post-mortem in vet labs, across the country, have not received adequate colostrum or the quality received was not good enough.

A calve should receive 8.5% of its total body weight in beestings in the first two hours of life; after that immunoglobulin absorption reduces dramatically.

A calf weighing 35kg should get 3L and a 45kg calf should receive 4L. Those feeding levels are crucial for the future performance of the calf, he said.

Coll also said that farmers should test the quality of the colostrum produced by their cows. This can be measured through the use of a refractometer.

When good-quality colostrum has been identified, he added, it can be frozen and used at a later date. However, he stressed that it was important that colostrum was only collected from the first milking.

“The antibody concentration of the second milking is only half that of the beestings produced during the first milking,” he said.