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Curb Scours Risk with High-Quality Colostrum

May 17, 2021
POSTED BY: Ken Learmont | DVM | Dairy Technical Services | Zoetis

There is a lot at stake in the first days of a calf’s development. Are you dedicated to ensuring high-quality colostrum is delivered to newborn calves immediately following birth?

Here’s one reason why you should be: Scours is the leading cause of calf death and sickness, responsible for 56.5% of mortality among pre-weaned dairy calves.1 With high-quality colostrum, you can help prevent your calves from being among that infected group. By giving your calves the highest-quality colostrum as close to birth as possible (the sooner the better, but no later than two hours after birth), you gain an advantage by providing protective antibodies that help reduce the risk they’ll contract scours.

Quality colostrum matters

To get this edge, your calves need the right amount of high-quality colostrum at the right time.

Here are a few tips I recommend for feeding colostrum — and maintaining its quality — at birth:

  • Harvest colostrum within one to two hours of freshening. One study found that the quality of colostrum can diminish as early as six hours after freshening.2 More specifically, this study showed if you wait 10 or more hours after calving before milking out colostrum, colostrum will no longer be high-quality.2 
  • Store colostrum in small containers that cool quickly. Bacterial growth is rapid in warm colostrum and can cause severe contamination and poor calf health. Cooling colostrum quickly and thoroughly and then storing clean colostrum is crucial to maintaining high quality.
  • Feed 4 quarts of colostrum as soon as possible. Specifically, high-quality colostrum should be fed before the calf is 2 hours old. Then, 2 more quarts should be given before the calf is 8 hours old.
  • Partner with your veterinarian. Your veterinarian can help you establish goals and protocols for measuring both colostrum quality at harvest and calf serum proteins.  

Vaccination during the dry period

Giving the vaccine ScourGuard® 4KC three to six weeks before calving aligns with the cow’s peak for colostrum production, which helps facilitate optimum antibody response. By increasing colostrum antibodies, you can help decrease the rate and severity of scours, decrease morbidity and mortality, and reduce rotavirus shedding. It’s doing right by your cows. In addition to enhancing animal welfare in general, it also can help reduce the use of, and need for, antibiotic treatment later.

What’s next?

Here are three scours prevention tips to help support calves during their first two months of life. Also, work with your veterinarian or Zoetis representative to find ways to help reduce the risk of scours for your calves specific to your dairy.

1 U.S. Department of Agriculture. Dairy 2014 Health and Management Practices on U.S. Dairy Operations, 2014. Accessed April 22, 2021.

2 Moore M, Tyler JW, Chigerwe M, Dawes ME, Middleton JR. Effect of delayed colostrum collection on colostral IgG concentration in dairy cows. J Am Vet Med Assoc. 2005;226(8):1375-1377.

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