calf drinking colostrom

This item was updated on May 30, 2016, to reflect Celsius as the temperature for pasteurization.

Colostrum delivers life-saving immunity and nutrients to newborn calves, but if not careful, it can also serve up a dose of unwanted pathogens. Those pathogens have been proven to lower serum immunoglobulin (IgG) levels.

A major concern is the transmission of Johne's disease from cow to calf, which can happen through colostrum. To help prevent the spread, University of Minnesota's Sandra Godden offered the following suggestions at the Minnesota Herd Health Conference held earlier this month:
  • Don't feed colostrum from Johne's infected cows
  • Don't let calves suckle the dam
  • Thoroughly prep the udder before colostrum collection
  • Don't pool colostrum from groups of cows
  • Sanitize colostrum harvesting and feeding equipment
  • Consider colostrum replacers for highly infected herds
Another option is to heat treat, or pasteurize, colostrum. Traditional batch pasteurization (63°C for 60 minutes) "works great for milk," said Godden. Unfortunately, colostrum turns to "pudding" at that temperature, and a lot of antibodies are lost, Godden explained.

After some trials, it was found that lowering the temperature to 60°C (140°F) for 60 minutes resulted in a reduction of total bacteria and coliform counts without changing the viscosity or causing significant IgG loss. It also eliminated salmonella, mycoplasma, and E. coli and significantly reduced the pathogen that causes Johne's disease.

If pasteurizing colostrum at 60°C (140°F) for 60 minutes is beneficial, what about treating it longer?

Initial studies looking at 90 minutes of pasteurization discovered that longer treatment further reduced bacteria counts, but it also lowered colostrum and serum IgG levels. While colostrum and serum IgGs were still very high in both groups fed heat-treated colostrum, "There was no large benefit to increasing from 60 to 90 minutes," noted Godden.

Pasteurization at 60°C (140°F) seems to be the sweet spot for colostrum, but further research is needed to see if there are benefits to heat treating more than 60 minutes.

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May 30, 2016
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