Never Feed Excess Colostrum to Cows

What is Colostrum?

Colostrum is the first milk secreted by cows for around three days after calving. It is aptly described as the most wonderful life elixir for newly-born calves as it is a source of immunity, growth factors and immune cells. It contains > 50 g / L highly fermentable carbohydrates and > 100 g easily digestible proteins, including immunoglobulins. It is also rich in calcium. Research has shown that to synthesize colostrum calcium must be mobilized from body resources and some time, the process of mobilization is not effective due to deficient secretion of related hormones. Such cows used to fall sick with a disease commonly referred to as Milk Fever. To prevent milk fever, in the old days it was a practice not to remove total colostrum from the udder, but to leave 1/4th.  Now that better options of controlling milk fever is available a better practice is to empty the entire udder.  This will also ensure that there is no feedback inhibition of milk synthesis.

The rationale of feeding colostrum in the good old days was that the leftover colostrum will be reabsorbed and the calcium present in it will replenish blood calcium. Although the efficacy of this practice in preventing milk fever is not fully endorsed, many farmers continue to milk entire colostrum. There are also farmers who think that the left-over (after feeding calves) could be fed to cows to prevent milk fever.  Some farmers even feed colostrum in  small amount to many cows in the farm. I have also come across cases where excess colostrum was also fed to other calves, assuming it would provide energy. This is a dangerous practice and should be avoided.

Why colostrum and milk should not be fed:

The reason is that adult cows have well-developed rumen where digestion is through anaerobic fermentation by microbes. When it is fed to adult cows it is digested by fermentation leading to the production of gases and severe acidosis. Acidosis in some cases may be severe enough to cause even death. Cows fed colostrum look dull, dizzy and anorexic.

Treatment for Feeding Colostrum

Cows fed with colostrum or milk should be treated immediately to prevent fermentation and absorption of acids. The first approach is pure by administering magnesium sulfate (250 to 350 g) and rumen buffers (30-40 g). In case the cow is dizzy and dull the veterinarian should be consulted who will administer a lot of fluids in the blood. Severe acids in rumen destroy microflora hence the best remedy is to transplant rumen flora obtained from cud of healthy cow or from the slaughterhouse.

Dr. Abdul Samad
Ex-Dean and Director, MAFSU, Nagpur