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Calf Management in the First Weeks of Life


Colostrum Management

Colostrum (the first milk) is a rich source of antibodies that are vital to help protect calves after birth until the immune system is fully developed. Good colostrum management ensures that calves get the necessary amount of high quality colostrum.

Ultravac Scourshield®

Vaccinating cows and heifers with Ultravac Scourshield® can boost protective antibodies in colostrum

NOTE: Refer to product label for registered label claims

Why is colostrum so important?

High quality colostrum is crucial for newborn calves and gives them the best start in life. In fact, optimum colostrum intake and average daily weight gain of calves during the first 56 days of life strongly influences the ability to reach their genetic potential.

Colostrum isn’t just a rich source of protective antibodies – it also contains a range of vital hormones, proteins and other factors that can affect the growth, reproduction, and lactation performance of animals throughout their lives.

Good colostrum management helps ensure healthy calves
Allows you to obtain full value from your cow/heifer vaccination program
Improves growth rate
Reduces scours and other diseases
Improves long-term milk production
Reduces death rate

Vaccination helps ensure high quality colostrum

Vaccinating cows and heifers stimulates the development of protective antibodies in the animal’s serum. Before calving, the antibodies concentrate in the colostrum at levels that are 2-10 times higher than normal1,2.

When the calf suckles (or is fed colostrum) in the first 12-24 hours after birth, the antibodies in the milk are absorbed through the calf’s gut and help protect against infections (including scours) while its immune system is still developing.

The first feeds are critical for healthy calves because absorption of antibodies through the gut rapidly decreases over the first 24 hours of life.

Vaccination 4 Steps



Learn more about how vaccinating cows and heifers with Ultravac Scourshield can boost protective antibodies in colostrum to help guard against scours in calves and protect your profitability.


Whilst supplementation of colostrum to beef calves is uncommon in Australia, if you plan to embark on a colostrum feeding program, follow these simple rules to maximise the transfer of immunity to your calves:

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Timing is everything! Absorption of antibodies by the calf’s gut drops quickly after birth:

By 50% in the first 6 hrs
By 75% at 12 hrs
Nearly zero absorption by 24 hrs

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High protein levels in colostrum indicate high levels of protective antibodies

Test colostrum using a simple device called a Brix refractometer – levels over 22% indicate good quality

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4 litres in the first 12 hours


2 x 2L feeds or 1 x 4L feed
Use increased quantities if colostrum is of poor quality (Brix <22%)

Are your calves getting enough colostrum?

A study funded by the MLA investigating calf scours in southern Australian beef herds3  reported a high prevalence of calf scours (28% of herds had >20% prevalence of scours, with 33% of herds having a mortality rate greater than 2% from 0 to 16 weeks of age). Despite this only a very small percentage of Australian beef farmers measure the colostrum quality of dams, or the blood antibody levels of newborn calves3. Overseas research has demonstrated that a high percentage (11-31%) of beef calves do not get enough good quality colostrum (called failure of transfer of passive immunity, or FTPI)4.  Factors contributing to poor intake of colostrum include dystocia (difficulties with calving), mismothering and poor calf vigour.

A low intake of colostrum (or poor quality colostrum) has been linked to lower rates of calf survival, increased risk of diseases, higher veterinary costs and higher cull rates. 
The effects of poor colostrum management can also be long-lasting, with reduced average daily weight gain and increased age at first conception.


1. Marnila & Korhonen. (2002) Immunoglobulins. In: H Roginskin, JW Fuquay and PF. Fox. [Editors] Encyclopedia of Dairy Sciences. Academic Press, London, UK, pp. 1950-1956. 

2. Zoetis data on file. (2008) Evaluation of Vaccination to Calving Intervals in Pregnant Heifers Vaccinated with ScourGuard 4K. Protocol #6135R-45-08-181

3. Gunn, A. (2003) Calf Scours in Southern Australia: A review of the impact of calf scours on beef enterprises. Meat and Livestock Australia Project Number AHW.026

4. Perino LJ. A guide to colostrum management in beef cows and calves. Vet Med 1997;92:75–82.

Further Reading

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