Managing colostrum is even more critical in winter

New calf barn.

Cold winter winds have been blowing in recent weeks, which honestly doesn’t seem as difficult to manage for calf health as the hot and cold weather roller coasters that precede and follow. The management of calf health in either of these weather conditions begins at zero hour of life. This is followed by a supply of high quality colostrum.

Warming up

Newborn calves should be dried quickly in cool weather to allow their hair to insulate them. A calf’s temperature only needs to drop to 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit to start experiencing hypothermia; if it drops below 95 degrees Fahrenheit, rapid warming is essential.

Calves above 95 degrees Fahrenheit with wet hair should be warmed in a warm room or box. Below 95 degrees Fahrenheit, calves should be warmed up quickly using a lukewarm water bath, then dried.

Remember that the temperature of the water should stay above the temperature of the calf, and the calf is essentially a giant ice cube. You will need to add more hot water almost continuously. In addition, the water should not be too hot. Imagine when your fingers are cold and you put them under lukewarm water to wash your hands. It burns and it stings.


Colostrum is an important source of antibodies, nutrients and energy for thermogenesis in newborn calves. Studies have shown that calves born when environmental temperatures are below 50 degrees Fahrenheit will need increased digestive heat to compensate for the heat loss that occurs especially in windy or humid conditions.

Colostrum provides lactose, amino acids, and triglycerides, making it an excellent source of energy for heat production.

A recent study showed that calves fed colostrum at 10% or 20% of their body weight had some differences in their ability to deal with stress from the cold around birth. Higher volumes of colostrum resulted in lower respiratory rates, less chills, and a higher rectal temperature, which is positive for the health of the calves.

High rates of colostrum intake also resulted in increased starter intake by four weeks of age. Calves in this study were only subjected to short-term cold stress, and no difference was found in rate of gain or incidence of disease.


Since colostrum plays an essential role in the thermoregulation of calves early in life, it is essential to give high quality colostrum or colostrum substitutes. When maternal colostrum is insufficient, our options are either to add a poor quality colostrum supplement to the colostrum or to use a colostrum replacement.

Colostrum substitute can be a great resource when you don’t have maternal colostrum or if you are having issues with sick calves caused by the transfer of pathogens into the colostrum.

Proper teat preparation is essential for colostrum management. Any manure stuck on the teat during the dry period should be removed before milking, otherwise it will end up in the colostrum.

When selecting colostrum substitutes or supplements, check the source of the immunoglobulins. The two options are bovine colostrum or blood serum. Both can provide immunoglobulin G to calves, but bovine colostrum is a better choice, especially in cold weather, as it also provides protein, fat, and other essential nutrients that maternal colostrum provides, but serum blood, even with additives, cannot.

The biggest difference between supplements and substitutes is the amount of immunoglobulin G present. Both are regulated by the United States Department of Agriculture, with supplements providing 99 immunoglobulins G or less and substitutes providing at least 100 immunoglobulins G.


A challenge with the replacements is that the transfer of immunoglobulin G is lower than with maternal colostrum. Studies have shown that when using colostrum replacement, the best approach is to feed yourself within two hours of birth.

Also pay special attention to the level of immunoglobulin G in your selected colostrum replacement. To achieve a successful passive transfer, you must feed a minimum of 200 grams of Immunoglobulin G. This may mean feeding two packs of replacement colostrum. Many of these products only contain 100 to 150 grams of immunoglobulin G.

Investment. Colostrum supplements may be beneficial in improving poor quality colostrum, but should not be added to high quality colostrum. Bovine colostrum products are superior to blood serum products.

Serum blood products have been shown to decrease passive transfer in calves fed high quality colostrum, possibly due to a large amount of protein crushing the areas of immunoglobulin G absorption. Also look for a supplement of Colostrum high in fat to help with energy in cold weather. Maintaining a high quality colostrum program is a worthwhile investment in the future of your herd.


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