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The Importance of
Colostrum for Kids

By Jackie Nix

One of the most important functions of colostrum (first milk) is to provide kids with immunoglobulin (also called antibodies) that provide passive immunity for the first two months of life. Kids (as well as other newborn mammals) are born with no antibodies of their own and rely on those provided by the mother in colostrum for protection.

Protection provided by colostrum starts during pregnancy. Does must be properly vaccinated and receive proper nutrition in order to mount the proper immune response needed to antibodies for colostrum and remain healthy themselves. It is generally recommended that does be vaccinated against Clostridium Perfringens types C and D and tetanus toxoid. However, dairy goat breeders should contact local veterinarians for vaccination recommendations specific to each geographical area. Proper nutrition includes providing a complete mineral/vitamin supplement designed for goats like the Sweetlix Caprine Magnum-Milk or Sweetlix 20 % All Natural Goat Block. Minerals such as selenium, copper and zinc are vital components of immune function. Newborns are very dependent on copper acquired during the prenatal period since copper levels in milk are poor. Therefore, proper copper nutrition in gestating females is critical to body stores in newborns. Proper immune function depends on the availability of the daily-recommended levels of essential minerals and vitamins, found in supplemental products, like Sweetlix.

Pregnant does must be kept in the location they are due to kid in for at least 14 days prior to kidding. This gives them time to manufacture the correct antibodies for their specific kidding environment to pass on to their kids.

The immunoglobins found in colostrum are absorbed whole by the kid through the lining of the stomach. However, the efficiency with which a kid can absorb immunoglobins declines within just one hour after birth. The ability to absorb immunoglobins drastically decreases after 12 hours and is essentially gone by 24 hours of age. Therefore, if a kid doesn’t get colostrum within the first 24 hours of birth, its chances of a healthy existence are slim.

The single most important component to successful transfer of antibodies from doe to kid is the consumption of sufficient amounts of colostrum. Kids must consume enough colostrum to provide the immunoglobins needed for passive immunity. This is normally not a problem if the doe is productive and has a healthy udder not affected by mastitis, udder edema, or CAE complications. However, because some does simply will not or cannot produce enough colostrum, especially in the case of multiple births, it is a good idea to have an alternative source of colostrum (frozen or powder) on hand.

Ideally, the best way to deal with a minimal natural colostrum problem would be to have frozen ahead extra colostrum from other healthy does. It is also important to note that colostrum quality often varies from doe to doe and is better from older does than younger, first time fresheners. Ice cube trays or pint zip lock bags (frozen flat) are good size options for frozen colostrum. The colostrum in pint size bags especially, can be thawed out quickly due to the high surface area.

The best way to thaw colostrum is to place it in warm, not hot water (120 degrees F, 50 degrees C). The goal here is to thaw it without degrading the protective antibody proteins. Colostrum can also be thawed in a microwave with little damage to the antibodies if it is heated for short periods of time on low power. To minimize excessive heating, periodically pour off the thawed liquid and avoid "hot spots" inside the frozen colostrum. Use of a turntable in the microwave can also help minimize this kind of damage.

Guidelines as to how much colostrum to feed vary according to appetite and weight of the newborn kids. Naturally, the kid should get as much as he or she can eat or want. A good rule of thumb to follow would be to provide eight to ten percent of the kids initial body weight. For example, if the birth weight was five pounds, roughly one half a pound of colostrum (five lbs. X 10 %) would be needed. This translates into about half a pint (one pint roughly equals one pound).

In summary, antibodies in colostrum provide kids with passive immunity for the first few months of their lives. Therefore, it is vitally important that kids receive adequate amounts of colostrum as soon after birth as possible, to ensure survival and optimum health. The quality of colostrum is dependant on how the dam is managed during pregnancy, especially during the last few weeks. Intake of the daily-recommended levels of essential minerals and vitamins needed by gestating does is necessary for the production of high quality colostrum at freshening or kidding. Kids need to get eight to ten percent of their body weight in the initial colostrum feedings to ensure the proper passage of life-sustaining antibodies.

For more information about Sweetlix supplement products for goats and other animals, call 1-87SWEETLIX.

Special thanks to Dr. Jim Quigley of American Protein Corporation for his expertise and contributions to this article.

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