Lately I’ve been posting all these cute baby pictures of our calves born recently. Believe me, they’re everywhere, I don’t have to walk far to stumble upon one!
When calves are first born they, like any other baby, have a virtually blank immune system. This leaves them wide open to a whole bunch of nasty diseases. One of our jobs as farmers is to prevent the animals from becoming sick. So how do we protect them?
After our babies are born, their mothers clean them off and care for them. Sometimes the calf nurses naturally at our farm and sometimes not. We try to limit this. This practice is not done to be mean to the cow or the calf, but if we feed the calf their colostrum, it enables us to know the amount they received. It is standard practice at our farm that each new calf receives at least 1 gallon of colostrum for its first feeding. If “Rosie”, the little wet red calf in the picture above, had solely nursed from her mom, it would be hard to tell if she had eaten enough. The goal is to have the cow milked before the calf has nursed so we can watch the amount eaten.
So what’s in this stuff any ways that it’s so important to be fed? Colostrum is loaded with antibodies! Antibodies cannot be passed thru the placenta, this leaves the baby born with nothing to really protect it from illness upon birth. The neat thing about calves is when they are born, their digestive tract is porous. This leaves little holes for the antibodies from the colostrum to pass thru. It’s critical for a calf to be fed colostrum as soon as possible so you don’t miss the window of time this is happening.
You want your calves to have colostrum from your own cows whenever possible. This ensures that it has antibodies specific to your farm. There are commercial colostrum supplements and replacers available, but they aren’t as specific as the colostrum that comes from your farm. In order to ensure we have ample colostrum for all calves, we will bank colostrum in a freezer. Some cows give very little colostrum the first milking. This leaves their baby with out enough nourishment. To prevent this from happening we will freeze extra colostrum from cows who give an abundance.
Colostrum is not “regular” milk. It is thick, sticky and yellow. It is higher in nutrients which makes it denser. It also has a higher sugar content than regular milk. So what exactly does this stuff look like?
Colostrum is worth it’s weight in gold. With out receiving proper amounts of colostrum a calf’s health can literally be compromised for life. Sickly calves become sickly cows who don’t produce much milk. It’s our goal to have healthy girls to make lots of milk to be consumed. It amazes me how something so simple as one feeding can influence an animal for its entire life!