A Beginner’s Guide to Colostrum

With lambing already happening in some parts of the country and calving about to start in the next couple of weeks, colostrum production will soon be in full swing. This amazing substance is vital to the good health of your young livestock, so we’ve put together a fact file for your reference.

Nature’s original superfood

Colostrum is a thick, yellowish substance produced by all lactating mammals just prior to, and immediately after, giving birth. It’s a very concentrated source of nutrients, antibodies and growth factors – everything the newborn needs to nourish and protect it in the first crucial days of life.

Colostrum is very different to regular milk in colour, consistency and composition. It contains more proteins, vitamin A and salt but less carbohydrates, fats and potassium.

It’s generally understood that newborn livestock need colostrum within six hours of birth but a 1997 paper published in International Dairy Journal 7 argued that for maximum absorption of antibodies, calves should be fed colostrum in their first 30 minutes.

Bovine colostrum for humans

Colostrum has long been considered medicinal in Asia, India and parts of Europe and there’s a thriving international market in bovine colostrum for human use. The composition of bovine colostrum is very similar to human colostrum but contains higher concentrations of growth and immune factors.

The health claims include boosting the immune system, enhanced fat-burning and weight loss, development of lean muscle mass and anti-ageing properties including rejuvenation of skin and muscle.

While many of these claims rely on anecdotal rather than scientific evidence, there’s been enough research to interest athletes, particularly those involved in endurance sports. There have also been studies showing colostrum can be effective in treating infectious diarrhoea in people with compromised immune systems.

New Zealand exports colostrum all over the world, especially to China. The Ministry for Primary Industries regulates production and processing in New Zealand.

Colostrum on the farm

If you’re anticipating your first-ever lambing or calving, it pays to be prepared in case something goes wrong. Buy some powdered colostrum and a couple of feeding bottles well in advance so that if you have an orphaned baby and no other lactating mothers, you can at least feed the newborn straight away.

If you’re considering calf rearing, you’ll need to think about storage. Colostrum can be frozen but it loses some of its properties. The other storage option is vats or tanks. These should be sited out of direct sunlight, preferably at below 20°. Any higher than this and the colostrum may develop a sour smell that the calves refuse. The best quality colostrum comes from the first two milkings after birth.

Colostrum will keep for up to 24 hours if it’s cooled before storage, up to a week if it’s refrigerated, or several weeks if fermented with either natural yoghurt or a colostrum keeper product (this isn’t suitable as a first feed). It should be stirred twice a day to prevent it from forming a crust.

RX Colostrum Tanks range from 500 litres all the way up to 10,000 litres. Made from opaque plastic, they display clear stencil markings showing the volume in litres.

The tanks are UV-stabilised, tough and easy to transport, with built-in lifting lugs. The 400mm diameter lids are positioned in the middle of the smaller tanks and on the outside edge of the larger tanks.

RX Plastics also stocks COLSTIRRERS, zinc-coated, manual colostrum stirrers.