Colostrum hygiene

The quality of colostrum declines if it becomes contaminated with bacteria. Find out how to collect and store colostrum from dairy cows in a hygienic way.

Back to: Colostrum management

Collecting colostrum from dairy cows

To ensure quality, collect colostrum as soon as possible after calving. Remember to test all colostrum to determine its antibody levels.

Know the disease status of your cows. Do not collect colostrum from cows that are positive for Johne’s disease or suffering from post-calving conditions. Ensure udder cleanliness. Effective teat disinfection removes bacteria. Prepare teats thoroughly to remove any teat sealant.

  • Avoid contaminating the colostrum yourself. Make sure your hands are clean and, ideally, wear gloves
  • After every use, disinfect the cluster and pipework inside and out
  • Use a clean dump bucket and then transfer the colostrum to a clean bucket with a lid

Storing colostrum

  • In warm colostrum, bacterial numbers can double every 20 minutes
  • Fresh colostrum should be fed to calves within one hour of collection, or pasteurised and stored appropriately

There are three ways to help reduce the rate of microbe multiplication: refrigeration, freezing and pasteurisation. See the table below for colostrum storage methods.

Table 1. How long colostrum can be stored in different ways

Refrigeration Freezing
Length of storage 24 hours Up to 1 year
Storage method 12 litre containers 12litre zip bags/purpose made flat
Storage temperature 4°C -18 to 20°C

Make sure all stored colostrum is labelled with the collection date and cow identity. This is particularly important if the cow later tests positive for Johne’s disease. Remember to use a thermometer to regularly check the temperature of fridges and freezers.

Preparation

Colostrum should be fed at body temperature of 38°C. Frozen colostrum can be thawed in the fridge overnight. Warm up colostrum in a water bath at a maximum temperature of 50°C so that the colostrum itself reaches 40–42°C. This allows it to cool slightly before it reaches the calf. Once warmed, use within 30 minutes. Check the temperature using a thermometer. Don't overheat or use a microwave to reheat or thaw colostrum because this will destroy the antibodies.

Pasteurising colostrum

Pasteurisation reduces the number of bacteria present, but pasteurised colostrum must still be chilled or frozen. If using a pasteuriser, refer to the manufacturer’s instructions for batch quantities.

Pasteurisation does not make low-quality or highly contaminated colostrum fit to feed.

Hygiene-testing colostrum

If you are concerned about the risk of feeding contaminated colostrum to your calves, have it tested for bacterial counts. This helps identify whether you need to change the ways in which you collect or store colostrum.

The sample should be taken just before it is fed to the calf. Ask your vet for more details.

Summary

  • Do not overheat or use a microwave to reheat or thaw the colostrum because this will destroy the antibodies
  • Store colostrum carefully to maintain its quality and ensure it is readily available so that it can be fed quickly
  • Using a water bath with a thermometer is a good way to thaw colostrum
  • Warmed colostrum must be fed to the calf at 38°C within 30 minutes

Useful links

Calf management guide

If you would like to order a hard copy of the Calf management guide, please contact publications@ahdb.org.uk or call 0247 799 0069.

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