Calf feeding – key points to managing colostrum

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While for many years Australian dairy farmers have recognised the importance of their calves receiving maternal colostrum, it continues to be an evolving story.

The reality is that a calf is born with no immunity.

And, it doesn’t develop until they are two to three weeks-of-age.

During that time, the calf’s sole defence lies in the hands of a passive immunity transfer (PIT) of antibodies (immunoglobulins) it gets from maternal colostrum.

However, by the time a calf is 12 hours old, its ability to absorb those antibodies has reduced to 20%. At 24 hours old, that percentage sits at just 5%.

We already know that the quality of colostrum varies between cows, and that if the colostrum doesn’t include enough immunoglobulins then calves will not achieve PIT.

Failure to achieve PIT is a sure-fire way to have more sick calves and higher mortality rates. My job is all about breaking that cycle, and I remain extremely passionate about it.

Achieving PIT with three Q’s and one C There are three “Q’s” and one “C” needed to achieve PIT.


Testing your maternal colostrum with a Brix refractometer will tell you its exact immunoglobulin concentration. The following chart gives you a guide on how to handle colostrum, based on immunoglobulin levels.

The good news is that if your colostrum doesn’t have a high enough concentration, it can be fortified with Australia’s only dried bovine colostrum supplement, Kwik Start.

Kwik Start carries high levels of immunoglobulins and anti-bacterials, which help establish immunity and intestinal protection for new-born calves, kids, lambs and foals. Furthermore, it also contains whey protein, omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, vitamins and minerals.

BRIX% Scale:

  • 20% or LESS: Leave for subsequent feeds (Keep Refrigerated)
  • 21-25%: Supplement with 200g of Kwik. Start before feeding.
  • 25% or MORE: Feed as is.


Ideally, a new-born calf needs to be fed at least 10% of its birth weight with maternal colostrum within its first six hours. For example, a 40-kilogram calf needs four litres of high-quality colostrum. The Antahi Trusti-Tuber (which doubles as a bottle feeder, see inside front cover) is the safest and least stressful way to feed the right amount of colostrum.


There is no doubt that timing is everything. With the calf’s ability to absorb immunoglobulins dropping dramatically as soon as it draws its first breath, the clock is ticking from the get-go. Remember, its PIT drops to 20% within 12 hours, and plummets to 5% at 24 hours.


Bacteria levels double in the milk every 20 minutes that the milk sits in a bucket at 20 degrees Celsius, ambient temperature. So, if there was ever a motivating reason to feed clean colostrum from a clean bottle to a calf with no immunity, this is it.

It is important to make sure that everything you use to harvest, store and feed your colostrum is clean. It’s also important to store excess high-quality colostrum in a clean, purpose-made colostrum bag, which has been frozen quickly to limit any bacteria developing. A colostrum-management system, such as Store & Thaw, is the fastest way to rapidly and hygienically manage your maternal colostrum.

Store & Thaw thaws high quantities of colostrum quickly (four litres from frozen to feeding temperature within 15 minutes). It can also pasteurise colostrum (at 60 degrees Celsius within 60 minutes, killing Salmonella, E.coli, and Mycoplasma bovis).


Everyone knows that it takes the same amount of time to deal with one sick calf
as it does 10 healthy ones. By establishing protocols, our team is confident you will achieve your calf-rearing goals.

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BRENDAN JOHNSON Calf Rearing Specialist – Daviesway/DASCO

Mobile: 0419 950 044 •. Email:

Brendan Johnson has specialised in calf-rearing, nutrition and equipment at Daviesway for 12 years. Born on a dairy farm, he remains actively involved in his family’s commercial calf-rearing operation. He is also notably the name behind the development and manufacture of Australia’s first and only dried bovine colostrum supplement, Kwik Start.