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Colostrum and Transition milk feeding

Agriculture

Colostrum and transition milk feeding

Management of the newborn calf

As highlighted over recent years good colostrum management is a central factor in determining both calf survival and health. As the calf is born with insufficient immunity, it requires the dam’s colostrum to acquire immunity to disease. Therefore, it is important that the calf receives its 1st colostrum feed within two hours of birth. Colostrum feeding revolves around four key pillars, these being, quantity fed, quickly, quality and the hygiene of feeding utensils.

Colostrum/transition milk

After the calf receives one to two feeds of colostrum they are normally transitioned onto whole milk or milk replacer. This is contrasting to natural conditions, for example, suckling calves can continue to suckle their dam and further avail of the transition milk. As shown in Table 1, milk harvested at the 1st milking (colostrum) is highest in quality i.e. total solids, Immunoglobulins %, IGF-1 and lactoferrin. However, although quality declines at the 2nd and 3rd milking (transition milk), there still appears to be reasonable quality in some constituents which the calf may continue to benefit from if fed.

Table 1– Composition of colostrum, transition milk and whole milk (Adapted from Foley and Otterby, 1978 & Blum and Hammond,2000)

  Colostrum Transition milk Transition milk Milk
Milking 1 2 3 6
Parameter  
Specific gravity 1.056 1.040 1.035 1.032
Total solids (%) 23.9 17.9 14.1 12.9
Fat (%) 6.7 5.4 3.9 4.0
Total protein (%) 14 8.4 5.1 3.1
Casein (%) 4.8 4.3 3.8 2.5
Immunoglobulins (%) 6 4.2 2.4 0.09
IgG (g/100ml) 3.2 2.5 1.5 0.06
Lactose (%) 2.7 3.9 4.4 5.0
IGF-1 (ug/L) 341 242 144 15
Lactoferrin (g/l) 1.84 0.86 0.46
Nutritional value and health benefits of feeding transition milk post colostrum feeds

The feeding of transition milk has the potential to improve gut health in young calves. For example, after birth the gastrointestinal tract (GIT) is one part of the anatomy in ruminants which rapidly matures. This change is a result of the need to absorb nutrients from feed ingested to meet the calf’s nutrient requirements for energy and protein. In both colostrum and transition milk bioactive peptides and hormones are present. One of these hormones is insulin-like growth factor (IGF-1). This hormone has an indirect effect on the growth of the intestine. Also, the presence of nucleotides aid intestinal health. Research has shown that in calves up to three days of age, those fed colostrum or colostrum mixed with whole milk (transition milk) had increased intestinal development and function compared to calves fed one colostrum feed at birth followed by the feeding of whole milk thereafter.

Adopting this practice within CAFRE

The evidence does suggest that there are health benefits for the calf in extending the feeding period of colostrum/transition milk. Within the CAFRE dairy herd the aim is to harvest 20 litres of transition milk from the post calving cow at the 1st to 3rd milking. This milk is then stored in 2L milk bottles and refrigerated. Over the next five days the calf receives their dam’s milk re-heated and fed at a rate of 4L per day in two feeds.