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Monitoring Your Colostrum

12:47PM Dec 26, 2014

Colostrum quality variability is the biggest bottleneck in calf management. Even with the correct amounts of colostrum received, if the quality is not acceptable, calves can be susceptible to health problems.
By: Virginia Ishler, Extension Dairy Specialist, Penn State University

Production Perspective

A lot of time and effort goes into getting a cow pregnant. When she freshens, the goal is to have a live calf. Sometimes it is the first few hours after birth that presents the greatest challenge to the calf. S/he needs the proper nutrients and antibodies to optimize its immune system.

Since the calf relies on passive transfer through colostrum, the first feed consumed needs to be high quality and given in the correct amounts. The general rule of thumb is 2-3 quarts as soon as possible after birth and another 2-3 quarts within 8 hours.

Excellent quality colostrum contains >50 mg/ml immunoglobulins (Ig). A colostrometer or a refractometer can be used to measure quality. The colostrometer can be used at room temperature (72°F) and green is considered excellent quality. With the refractometer, 22% or above equates to excellent quality.

Action plan for improving colostrum quality fed to calves

Monitor colostrum quality on every cow and heifer that freshens. Excess colostrum testing high quality will be stored frozen.


  1. Develop a standard operating procedure on monitoring colostrum quality and include protocols on thawing frozen colostrum. Make note of any cows that have tested positive for Johnes and discard their milk.
  2. Have containers and freezer space available to store excess colostrum that tests 50 mg/ml Ig and above. Label bottles with the cow's ID, date, and quality (color or percentage).
  3. Record the amount and quality of colostrum fed to each calf.
  4. Record calf health (i.e. scours and respiratory problems) and the associated treatment.
  5. Review results on a monthly basis.

Additional Information

More information on colostrum management can be found in the Penn State Extension Dairy Calf Nutrition section.

Economic Component

Monitoring an economic component is necessary to determine if a management strategy is working or not. For the lactating cows income over feed costs is a good way to check that feed costs are in line for the level of milk production.

Starting with July's milk price, income over feed costs will be calculated using average intakes and production for the last six years from the Penn State dairy herd. The ration will contain 63% forage consisting of corn silage, haylage and hay. The concentrate portion will include corn grain, candy meal, sugar, canola meal, roasted soybeans, Optigen and a mineral vitamin mix. All market prices will be used. Also included are the feed costs for dry cows, springing heifers, pregnant heifers and growing heifers. The rations reflect what has been fed to these animal groups at the Penn State dairy herd for the past six years. All market prices will be used.

Standardized IOFC starting July 2014


Note: October's milk price: $26.11/cwt; feed cost/cow: $6.05; average milk production: 81.0 lbs.