The calving season has started on some farms, while many other farms will be starting in the coming days and weeks.

With this comes the feeding of calves and most importantly the feeding of colostrum to calves.

Using the 1,2,3 rule:

  • 1. Use the first milk (colostrum) from the cow;
  • 2. Feed the calf colostrum within the first two hours of birth;
  • 3. Calves must be offered at least 3L of good-quality colostrum.

Colostrum quality

Many farmers will have started to test colostrum quality to ensure calves are getting a high-quality first feed.

Colostrum quality can be tested using a Brix refractometer. High-quality colostrum which has a reading of 22% or above on the refractometer can be used or stored.

Speaking at the Animal Health Ireland (AHI) and Teagasc CalfCare webinar, Dr. Joe Patton, a Teagasc nutritional specialist, spoke about how farmers can improve colostrum quality if they believe there is an issue on their farm.

”Feeding high-quality silage with 12% protein is the most important thing, feeding poorer quality will cause cows to produce poorer quality colostrum,” he said.

An example of poor quality silage is 60% dry matter digestibility (DMD) and 10% protein.

“If poor quality silage is an issue, feeding soya two weeks prior to calving will give cows the required boost to produce high-quality colostrum,” Patton added.

”This will not affect calf size when fed for a such a small period of time and in the correct quantity.”

The recommended level of feeding is 200-300g/head; this should improve the quality of colostrum being produced by the cows.

For farms that have already starting calving, it is too late to start feeding soya to all cows to improve colostrum quality, but some later calvers can still be fed soya, if colostrum quality is an issue.

It is also important that cows receive an adequate amount of minerals pre-calving.

Also Read: Avoiding calving issues: Time is running out

Final points

Ensure that cows in the lead up to calving are in the correct body condition score (BSC); they are receiving required levels of minerals; and there is enough protein in the cow’s diet.

This gives the cow a better change of a trouble-free calving and producing a high-quality colostrum for the calf, giving the calf a good start to life and the cow a good start to its lactation.