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Colostrum Feeding Tips for Newborns

By Jennifer Stultz

Colostrum is the first milk produced by a doe when she freshens (gives birth). This milk is vitally important for the new kid or kids to ingest because it contains vitamins, minerals and antibodies to prevent disease. It is also a laxative and helps the baby’s digestive system to work properly.

Good colostrum, when milked from the doe, is dark yellow in color and thicker than normal milk. Does which have been milked through without a three- to four-week dry period in their lactation will not produce good colostrum. Sometimes does in poor health and other conditions can delay the onset of the doe’s milk production. If this happens, colostrum from a previously fresh doe can be given to the newborn kid or kids. In an emergency, a home recipe for colostrum comes in handy, such as the one below left, and can be used successfully to get kids off to a healthy start.

Shelbi Stultz, Kansas, works to teach her newborn Nigerian Dwarf how to drink from a bottle in order to make sure the kid gets adequate colostrum and a healthy start in life.
Shelbi Stultz, Kansas, works to teach her newborn Nigerian Dwarf how to drink from a bottle in order to make sure the kid gets adequate colostrum and a healthy start in life.

Many dairy goat breeders are concerned about the passage of certain diseases from dam to kids through milk and colostrum, and rightly so. There are some diseases that can be transmitted only through milk, and they can be eliminated from the goat herd with careful attention to heat-treating colostrum or pasteurizing milk before it is fed to kids. The common way to heat treat colostrum is to put it in the a double boiler, warm it to 135°F, and hold it there for 30 to 50 minutes. Another workable method is to heat a Thermos bottle by rinsing it several times with boiling water, then filling it with the 135°F colostrum. The Thermos can be closed and left standing on the counter for 30 to 50 minutes after which it can be cooled for immediate use or frozen and saved for later. Heating colostrum in this way will kill the CAE virus, which could otherwise be passed to the newborn kid(s).

It is important not to heat the colostrum higher than 135°F as this will kill the good antibodies and hamper the absorption of vitamins and minerals. It will also turn the colostrum into a thick, sweet pudding, which is impossible to put through a bottle, tube feeder or nipple for the baby to drink.

It is also important to get colostrum into new babies in the first eight to 12 hours of their life, or the stomach will not properly absorb the valuable nutrients provided. After the first day of life, kids can be fed pasteurized milk or milk powder mix but their first few feedings in life should be the all-important colostrum. Studies and surveys from the dairy cattle industry point to several important factors that maximize the use of colostrum feeding. These findings from Virginia Tech Cooperative Extension/Dairy Pipeline likely apply to dairy goat use as well, and merit consideration.

Several surveys and clinical studies have shown that approximately 30% of all calves fail to absorb adequate amounts of antibodies from colostrum even when adequate quantities of colostrum are fed early in life. These calves face an increased risk of disease during the first month of life until their immune system begins producing antibodies.

Research from several studies sheds some light on why calves fail to absorb colostrum antibodies. A study conducted at VA Tech by Bob James and Carl Polan demonstrated that the presence of high levels of bacteria in the intestine were associated with low antibody absorption. In this study, early colonization was the result of administering a "probiotic" bacterial inoculum prior to or shortly after colostrum feeding. The higher the bacterial counts in the intestine, the less antibody absorption.

Dr. Sandra Godden from the University of Minnesota demonstrated that colostrum can become a source of large numbers of bacteria if it is not cooled rapidly after milking or if it´s administered with an improperly cleaned esophageal feeder. She found that bacterial growth in colostrum was rapid and exceeded 100,000 bacteria/ml within a short time after milking if unrefrigerated. In a Minnesota field study, standard plate counts of colostrum fed to calves exceeded 162,000,000 cfu./ml. These studies led to the following conclusions:

  • Colostrum should be treated in the same manner as saleable milk. Colostrum should be fed within an hour or two of harvest or refrigerated immediately. If refrigerated, it should be fed within 24 hours to limit bacterial growth. Refrigeration temperature should be less than 40°F, but above freezing.
  • If a calf is born between milking times and refrigerated or frozen colostrum is not available, the owner should consider using one of the colostrum replacer products that contain at least 100 g of antibody per dose.

  • Probiotics should not be fed within the first 12 hours of life and preferably at least six hours after the last colostrum feeding, as they will interfere with the absorption of the colostrum.

    Colostrum supplements or replacer products that also contain probiotics should not be used. These products will commonly show the addition of bacteria such as lactobacilli or bifidobacteria.

Source: Dairy Pipeline/Virginia Tech Cooperative Extension 

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