Colostrum key to ensuring calves survives first month
Feeding enough good quality colostrum (biestings) to a newborn calf is the single most important thing that a farmer can do to help ensure that a calf survives and thrives during its first month on the farm.
Calves are born without protective antibodies, which means they do not have an ability to fight off diseases like scour, navel ill and pneumonia.
To acquire these antibodies they must be fed colostrum, which is the milk the cow produces in her first milking after calving.
The calf's gut can only absorb these protective antibodies during its first 24 hours of life but the first six hours are ideal.
Failure to transfer this ability to fight infection from the cow to the calf condemns the calf to poor thrive and disease at best, or death at worst.
Calves should receive three litres of the cow's first milk within two hours of birth.
Calves frequently wag their tails when suckling but since no-one knows how many wags of the tail is the equivalent to 3l of colostrum, the safest thing to do is milk 3l of colostrum into a clean bucket and either feed it with a nipple or via an oesophageal tube (also known as a stomach tube).