February 2015
Farm & Field

Better Colostrum. Better Calves.

As a popular pizza chain states: better ingredients make all the difference. The same can be said for our cattle. We need to give them the proper nutritional building blocks to allow them to perform as desired. As we are heading toward calving season, we need to think about making sure our cows are properly supplemented so they have all the correct components to birth and rear a healthy calf.

A cow’s diet during the last third of her pregnancy is critical not only for calf development, but also for the creation of high-quality colostrum. For first calf heifers, this last trimester is also critical for the development of mammary tissue that will affect her milk production for the rest of her life. To say nutrition is crucial during the last third of pregnancy can’t be overstated!

Ingestion of colostrum (first milk) is necessary for the transfer of passive immunity to the calf. It is vital for calves to receive colostrum within the first 24 hours of life (ideally within 12 hours or less) in order to be able to effectively absorb these protective antibodies. Calves that receive adequate colostrum within the first 24 hours will receive passive immunity benefits for the first three to five weeks of life. Failure of passive immunity transfer occurs in roughly one-third of dairy calves and is also an issue in beef calves, but not as easily documented.

It is well-known that all colostrum is not created equal. Multiple studies have shown differences in overall volume of colostrum as well as concentration of nutrients and antibodies known as immunoglobins. Immunoglobins, specifically IgG, are crucial for subsequent passive immunity. Calves need to receive a minimum amount of IgG to be fully protected. Colostrum containing inadequate concentrations of IgG increases the risk of failure of passive immunity transfer. One key bit of information, though, even if colostrum contains lower concentrations of IgG, calves can receive adequate IgG simply by consuming more. But the catch is they must consume this higher volume of colostrum while the gut still has the ability to absorb the IgG. Immunoglobin transfer across the gut is optimum during the first four hours, but then declines rapidly after 12 hours. Having lowered IgG concentrations increases the risk that calves might not consume adequate IgG within this window of time.

Research has demonstrated that supplementation with key trace minerals (copper, zinc, selenium), particularly organic forms, can positively influence IgG levels in colostrum. This makes perfect sense since these trace minerals are necessary components for the production of immunoglobins in the dam.

Transfer of immunoglobins from blood serum to the mammary glands begins roughly a month prior to calving and peaks a few days prior to birth. For this reason, it is critical for cows, especially first calf heifers, to be on a high plain of nutrition during those last few months of pregnancy.

While your cows and heifers should be on a high-quality mineral supplement throughout their entire pregnancy, it is even more important during the last trimester. Supplementation with organic sources of trace minerals can be particularly beneficial at this time.

In summary, give your calves the best start possible by placing cows and heifers on a high plane of nutrition during the last few months of pregnancy. Use one of the SWEETLIX CopperHead Supplements as an excellent source of high-quality minerals and vitamins necessary for both cow and calf requirements. SWEETLIX CopperHead Supplements are fortified at 150 percent of NRC-recommended levels of copper and zinc and SWEETLIX CopperHead Max Supplements at 250 percent of NRC-recommended levels of copper and zinc. Both include highly available, organic forms of copper, zinc, manganese and cobalt. SWEETLIX offers a wide variety of high-quality supplements that will deliver essential minerals and vitamins to cattle in an ultra-convenient delivery system. Visit sweetlix.com or ask for SWEETLIX at your local Quality Co-op to learn more about these products. Also, like us on Facebook to learn more about how SWEETLIX can work for you.

SWEETLIX and CopperHead are registered trademarks of Ridley Block Operations

Jackie Nix is an animal nutritionist with Ridley Block Operations (www.sweetlix.com). You can contact her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or 1-800-325-1486 for questions or to learn more about SWEETLIX mineral and protein supplements for cattle, goats, horses, sheep and wildlife. References available upon request.