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0609 PD: Viable options for pasteurizing and feeding colostrum

Jennifer Heguy Published on 09 April 2009

There are few doubts about the value of colostrum, but there are differences in colostrum management that can have a significant impact on the effectiveness of your heifer’s first meal.

Good colostrum management is vital to raising healthy calves. Over the years, emphasis has properly been placed upon colostrum quality, amount of colostrum fed (based on quality), and time of first colostrum feeding.

While colostrum plays an important role in protecting the calf at the start of life, it can also be one of the first introductions of infectious agents into the calf’s system. For example, E. coli, salmonella spp. and mycoplasma spp. can directly cause diseases in calves such as scours and septicemia. It is also thought that bacteria in colostrum can interfere with the passive transfer of antibodies that calves need to build their own immune systems. Recently discovered cases of TB in California herds are another good example of why pasteurizing colostrum may be the next logical step in your colostrum regimen.

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Early attempts at pasteurizing colostrum led to destruction of IgG (antibodies) and thickened colostrum, causing problems with feeding and the pasteurizing equipment. Problems arise when heating colostrum to temperatures above 140°F and also when pasteurizing large batches of colostrum, even at acceptable temperature. Large batches increase the time to reach optimal temperature for pasteurization, resulting in thickening and loss of antibodies.

Pasteurizing colostrum at 140°F for 60 minutes minimized the loss of IgG and prevented increased viscosity of colostrum compared with heat treatment at higher temperatures. A 2007 study compared feeding raw colostrum with heat-treated colostrum. Colostrum from a group of cows was pooled and then divided to be fed to calves either as raw or pasteurized colostrum. Raw colostrum was transferred into sanitized feeding bottles, covered and refrigerated. The colostrum destined for pasteurization was heat-treated at 140°F for 60 minutes using a commercial on-farm batch pasteurizer and then packaged in the same manner as raw colostrum. Refrigerated colostrum was fed to calves within 36 hours of bottling.

Pasteurizing colostrum resulted in lowered bacterial counts, with IgG concentrations similar to that of nontreated raw colostrum. Bacterial counts rose between time of packaging and feeding in both groups, but pasteurized bacterial counts remained significantly lower than non-treated colostrum. Calves fed pasteurized colostrum had greater apparent efficiency of absorption of IgG and greater serum IgG concentrations at 24 hours when compared with calves fed non-treated colostrum.

The efficiency of IgG absorption increases the effectiveness of passive immune transfer, resulting in healthier calves that are better able to respond to environmental stress. While efficiency of absorption of IgG increased with pasteurization, it is important that quality and quantity of colostrum fed remain consistent with recommendations of your veterinarian. Pasteurization is not a replacement for other good colostrum handling practices, but may enhance your feeding protocols. PD

References omitted but are available upon request at
—Excerpts from University of California Merced County Dairy Newsletter, January 2009

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Jennifer Heguy
Dairy Adviser
University of California

What are the main reasons why dairy producers don’t pasteurize colostrum on their dairies? And what would you say to address their concerns?
Issues with thickening of colostrum and loss of antibodies were concerns in early attempts to pasteurize colostrum. The thickening of colostrum during the pasteurization process made operation of the equipment difficult and also resulted in a product that was hard to feed. Loss of antibodies speaks for itself, as producers want to give calves the best start possible. This article summarizes research describing a viable option to pasteurize colostrum that may enhance calf management systems.

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