Colostrum makes young animals strong and healthy


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By Theivendram Vigneswaran

Content: Calves and other young animals need the special milk called colostrum which their mothers produce for the first few days after giving birth. It is full of protein and vitamins, and helps protect the young animals from diseases. You can easily make a substitute for this milk if your young animal cannot get it from its mother.


Human babies need the special milk their mothers produce in the first days after giving birth. Babies need this milk because it is nutritious, and because it helps to protect them from disease. Like babies, newborn animals also need the special first milk their mothers produce.

Many animals produce the special first milk, called colostrum. Today, we are going to talk about cows. Colostrum is the first milk that a cow produces for its calf. It is nutritious, full of protein and vitamins. It helps the calf to grow strong and healthy. Colostrum contains antibodies, which are substances that help protect the calf from diseases. The antibodies pass from the cow to the calf in the colostrum. They are vital for the survival of the calf, especially during the early part of its life.

You can easily tell the difference between colostrum and regular milk by its colour. Colostrum is dark or pale yellow.

Some farmers believe that colostrum is bad for calves. They think that if a calf drinks colostrum, it will have fits or diarrhoea. They think they should not allow calves to drink colostrum. But this is not true. Colostrum is the best food for a newborn calf.

As soon as your calf gets up on its legs, you should encourage it to suck this first milk, the colostrum. Make sure that the calf gets the colostrum within two or three hours of birth. Sometimes your calf will be too weak to stand or suck, so you have to help your calf to drink the milk from the cow. If your newborn calf doesn’t get enough colostrum soon after birth, it can easily get sick. It will have less resistance to diseases and will grow slowly. Colostrum is a vital food for the calf.

However, it is also important to remember that too much of anything is bad. If you allow your calf to suck the colostrum for a long time, eventually your calf will get sick, especially with diarrhoea. This can cause death. So only allow your calf to drink the colostrum four to five times a day at regular intervals. Each time, allow your calf to suck about 10 or 15 minutes. This will help your calf to get the right amount of colostrum.

Sometimes a cow will not produce colostrum because it is sick or it will not allow the calf to suck. Or the cow may have died giving birth. In these cases, you will have to find other ways to give colostrum to the calf. If you find another cow on your farm or in the neighbourhood which gave birth at the same time, you can collect some colostrum from that cow and feed it to your calf.

Or you can make a substitute for colostrum. There is no perfect substitute for real colostrum. But if you add a few things to regular milk, you have a mixture that is closer to the nutritional content of colostrum. The mixture is easy to make.

Mix together 1 bottle (1/2 litre or 1/2 quart) of milk, 1 egg white (beaten), 1 tablespoon of cod liver oil, and 1 tablespoon of castor oil. If you have glucose, you can add some. Mix well. Warm the mixture to body temperature before you give it to the calf. When you are warming the mixture, put it in a bowl, or in a feeding bottle, and place the bowl or bottle in hot water. Do not warm it on a direct fire. If you do, the mixture will lose nutrients and vitamins. Make a fresh mixture for every feeding. Use clean utensils and a clean feeding bottle. Feed it to the calf by bottle.

If you feed your calf colostrum, it will be healthy and grow quickly. It will be more resistant to diseases. So it is very important that your calf gets the first milk, called colostrum, to give it a healthy start in life.


Theivendram Vigneswaran was Farm Manager at the Jaffna College Institute of Agriculture in Maruthanamadam, Sri Lanka. He presently works as a consultant with DCFRN in Toronto.

Information about the importance of colostrum and making a colostrum substitute was also sent in by DCFRN participant Daniel Oloo Otieno, Agricultural Coordinator, Inades Formation, Nairobi, Kenya.