Caring for the Lactating Dairy Herd in Extreme Cold

Caring for the lactating dairy herd in extreme cold conditions also has its challenges. If not properly cared for producers may see a decline in performance including total milk production, increasing somatic cell counts due to mastitis, losses in reproductive efficiency and even decreased growth in young first calf heifers if the extreme cold continues for extended periods of time.

Thermoneutral Zone

Even though a majority of lactating cows are housed inside throughout the year there are still some important factors to remember. The thermoneutral zone is the environmental conditions where a cow does not expend extra energy to either cool or heat its body. In dairy cattle this range is between 40º to 68º F for a lactating dairy cow. If the ambient air temperature is on either side of this range, the animal will adjust its energy usage via thermoregulation. It will either warm or cool itself instead of putting the energy from the diet towards growth, reproduction, production and maintenance. Factors that can affect the upper and lower critical temperature, when combined are the base air temperature, wind, and humidity. Adequately managing the dairy herd through these swings in the thermoneutral zone will improve overall performance of the lactating dairy herd.

Water Sources

In extreme cold conditions we must first remember to provide an adequate amount of water on a daily basis. Adequate water consumption is critical to maintaining feed intake, milk production levels, reproductive efficiency and overall metabolic function. A lactating dairy cow on average consumes in excess of 15 gallons of fresh water per day. Water sources should be checked throughout the day in extreme cold to make sure they are not frozen and working properly. It is important to not let ice buildup happen near waterers which can cause injury due to slips and falls.

Facilities

Take a look at your facilities, do you have ripped curtains, holes in your wall, or doors that do not close adequately? Is it causing unnecessary drafts which may cause frost bite? Check your barn fans, if they are not functioning properly they are not circulating the air causing increased humidity in the barn, resulting in increased pneumonia risk and frost buildup. If cows are housed outside provide wind protection and adequate clean, dry, deep bedding. Keep in mind cattle with a good long hair coat are able to trap warm air in and around the hairs, allowing the body to stay warmer. Whereas a wet haircoat or a haircoat covered in manure will provide less protection from the cold letting the body heat out and cold air in.

Teat Dips

Continuing to teat dip is still a necessity and essential to minimize mastitis risk. You still want to use a teat dip that has an effective germicide while also providing a skin conditioning agent. Some practices that may help are dabbing the teat end with a clean towel once the post dip has been applied if the cow will be exposed to wind chills directly post milking. Do not dry the entire teat which essentially removes the dip. The other option is to just dip the teat end in extreme cold temperatures. Try to allow enough time for the teats to dry before exposure to colder temperatures outside the milking parlor or barn. Warming the teat dip helps reduce drying time. Keep in mind fresh cows with swollen udders are more susceptible to chapping.

Diet Adjustments

Even though dairy cattle are ruminants and producing their own heat as they digest feedstuffs it will still be necessary to make diet adjustments based upon the temperature, wind protection, overall body condition, milk production levels, along with the body growth and maintenance needs of the animal. Work with your nutritionist to adjust diet dry matter intakes and energy levels during extreme cold weather periods.

Other Considerations

Other considerations to keep in mind in the dairy barn is making sure that all smoke & fire detectors are in working order. Using caution and common sense if a portable space heater is needed. Do not place near flammable items such as paper towels or bedding, making sure they cannot be tipped over easily. Lastly, make sure your vaccines that are temperature sensitive are properly stored. Frozen vaccine inactivates the vaccine and they are now no good, costing you money while providing no benefit to the animal. The same can also be true for certain antibiotics.

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What Makes a Cow Fertile?

Why do cows fail to get pregnant when you do everything right? Having a healthy cycling cow in heat, bred by an experienced technician is not enough to ensure a viable pregnancy. There are two crucial things that must occur prior to breeding for any real chance of producing an embryo that will survive to term.

High Progesterone

The first essential item for a lasting pregnancy is high progesterone. Not the progesterone needed to sustain the pregnancy once it has been created, but progesterone prior to fertilization. Numerous studies eshow for the developing oocyte to be able to fertilize and make an embryo that will survive to term, it must grow under high progesterone during its last days prior to ovulation.

The second critical factor to producing a viable pregnancy is to ovulate a follicle that is not too old and degenerate or too young and immature. To make an embryo that is the strongest and survives the best, we must breed a fresh, competent oocyte (the unfertilized egg, which is released from the follicle), and this is often a problem for lactating dairy cows. There are a high percentage of natural heats that ovulate aged dominant follicles. These cows often appear as strong heats, have great mucous and uterine tone, but the oocyte is aged. Most of these aged oocytes will fertilize, but they make small weak embryos that do not survive well.

Both follicle competency and adequate progesterone during its development are essential for maximizing fertility. It is the reason some dairies are attaining conception rates exceeding 60% using first-service synchronization programs such as the G6G or the Double Ovsynch. Interestingly, when you look at the last three injections in these two popular programs, it’s still the original Ovsynch program that finishes them.

Enhance Survival

The only difference in these programs is the shots that precede the Ovsynch. Those are meant to synchronize cows at around days five to eight of their cycle. At this time most lactating cows have a next follicular wave large enough to ovulate, and the first GnRH injection of the Ovsynch is meant to get rid of older, less fertile follicles/oocytes.

Starting cows around days five to eight of their cycle results in higher ovulation rates. By removing the dominant follicle and its hormones, we start a new follicular wave that will ovulate a fresh oocyte, making an embryo that has the best chance of surviving. Another benefit of starting cows in Ovsynch at that time is most cows will have an active corpus luteum (CL) producing enough progesterone to grow a fertile follicle/oocyte.

These first service programs attain amazing conception rates, but what about the cows that do not conceive? How do we resynchronize them if we fail to observe a standing heat or our conception rates are too low with natural heats?

In subsequent articles I will discuss the challenge in managing these cows reproductively and some strategies to apply to achieve higher conception rates.

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Don’t Fall Behind with Coccidiosis

Among the “biggies” of pathogens that cause scours in both pre- and post-weaned calves is coccidia, a parasitic protozoa that sets up shop in the intestinal tract of cattle. Eggs are produced internally and pass into the environment via shedding in manure.

Shedding of coccidia “eggs” or oocysts by infected calves and heifers usually peaks about 3 weeks after initial exposure. In one study the peak numbers of oocysts shed per day by untreated infected calves was 50,000,000 on day 21! Older, immune animals continue to contaminate their environment at a much lower — but consistent — rate. These facts tell us that from the moment a calf is born, she is very likely to get some of these oocysts in her mouth.

Don’t fall behind – reduce exposure of newborn and older calves

Once a newborn calf stands up, she is in a perfect situation to begin getting coccidia eggs in her mouth. Licking the dam’s hair coat, searching for a teat to suck, and licking on anything in her environment, unfortunately, all are generous sources of coccidia eggs. Moving her to a cleaner space does work to cut exposure.

Among older calves, we should think about ways to reduce their shedding rates (that is, the rate that she passes coccidia eggs in her feces):

  • Create clean, well-bedded resting space for calves.
  • Optimize ventilation in the barn and calf or heifer pens.
  • Provide adequate feed space per animal.
  • Minimize weight and age variation between animals in the group.
  • Avoid feeding on the ground unless it is at a bunk.
  • Provide 12″ of linear water space per 10 animals.
  • Treat infected animals.
  • Maximize time between successive occupants of the same pen.

Managing infections – building immunity

On nearly all dairies, all animals will eventually be exposed to coccidia. Through natural exposure, they will build immunity that suppresses infection. If the exposure of young calves can be managed to maintain a low level of infection, they can build immunity without excessive damage to their gut and loss of normal growth.

So, what can we do if natural exposure rates are uncontrolled (and likely to be high)? Use one of the feed additives that act to control coccidia activity in the calf after exposure. The four additives approved for use in the United States include:

  • Deccox®-M [decoquinate] – available in milk replacer, or powder, mixed with milk to make suspension
  • Bovatec® [lasalocid] – available in milk replacer, liquid additive to mix with milk
  • Rumensin® [monensin] – added to dry feeds like calf starter grain
  • Corid® [amprolium] – liquid can be added to milk or milk replacer, or dry crumble

When used as prescribed, all of these additives limit the population of coccidia in the gut. Their effectiveness is shown in studies in which the shedding rates have been reduced about 96 to 98 percent.

Preclinical use of the additives is recommended. Damage in the gut due to uncontrolled growth of coccidia will occur as early as 5 days after coccidia exposure. Thus, don’t wait until clinical symptoms are present to begin using the additive that you and your veterinarian believe is best for your situation.

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What You Can’t Do With a VFD

For some time now, livestock producers and veterinarians have been gaining an understanding of the new Veterinary Feed Directive (VFD) rules. These rules went into effect on January 1, 2017, and as the year progressed, livestock producers have been confronting what those rule changes mean for their own operations. Before January 1, feed-grade antibiotics such as chlortetracycline (CTC) for their animals could be purchased and used by livestock producers without any input from a veterinarian. Now, in order to use those medications, a VFD form from a veterinarian must be obtained.

Understanding the New Rules

As all parties have quickly discovered, the VFD process is more than just having a vet’s signature on a scrap of paper. Because there is no allowance for using feed-grade medications in an “off-label” manner, veterinarians completing the VFD’s have had to pay exquisite attention to every detail on the label, including the dose, duration of feeding, reasons (disease treatment vs. control) for feeding, and the diseases the medication could be used for.

For many cattle producers, the fall of 2017 has been the first time they’ve encountered this new way of doing business. Issues with pneumonia post-weaning, or following arrival of feeder cattle have always been challenges. In past years, uses of CTC in cattle feed have been subject to very little oversight, and some of those uses, although well-intended, were off-label. With the onset of the new rules, producers are having to square their previous treatment methods with what a VFD can – or can’t – allow them to do.

  • Refills
    A VFD can’t provide for refills, like a prescription one might get from a family doctor. This means a producer can’t use the same VFD form to come back and get another quantity of medicine if it’s determined to be needed later on.
  • Expiration Dates
    All VFD’s have expiration dates, and that’s a point of confusion as well. A VFD actually expires when the treatment is done (or the expiration date is reached – whatever comes first). Even though a VFD might not expire until February (authorizing a treatment any time until then), if a 5-day treatment is finished in November, the VFD is finished too.
  • Repeat Treatments
    A VFD can’t contain a statement authorizing a “retreatment as needed” or “repeat treatment in xx days.” An animal can’t show up on a VFD form more than once. If another round of treatment is necessary, a veterinarian will have to issue another VFD for the second treatment. That means that some groups of cattle might need 2 or 3 separate VFD’s written for them.
  • Animals Covered
    A VFD can’t be written for more animals than the veterinarian expects you’ll have on the farm. The veterinarian is responsible for indicating the number and location of the animals to be treated. This might get a little tricky for producers who buy several groups of feeder calves over time. Veterinarians might decide to only write the VFD for what is currently on the farm, or they could write it for the number eventually expected, if they are confident that number will be eventually procured.
  • Pneumonia 
    A VFD can’t be written to treat or control pneumonia when there isn’t any pneumonia in the cattle. In the past, it was not uncommon for treatment doses of CTC to be fed to cattle to “get ahead of” an outbreak, or to “clean up” the calves’ respiratory tract in anticipation of problems. When treatment doses are authorized by a VFD, this implies that active pneumonia is present in the group. It doesn’t mean producers have to wait until each and every calf is sick – but clearly, CTC labels don’t allow for using treatment doses in a group of completely healthy calves. This is the veterinarian’s call. If their clinical judgement tells them there’s pneumonia present in the group, they can write the VFD.

In Summary

It’s understandable that some livestock producers are feeling pinched by what a VFD can’t do. However, these new rules can do one very valuable thing: giving livestock producers an opportunity to interact with the one local professional who can best guide them through health-related decisions about their animals – their veterinarian. Since the VFD’s implementation, many of these interactions have resulted in more effective and efficient use of these tools and consideration of disease prevention methods that preclude the need for antibiotics. These conversations are definitely a positive by-product of these new regulations.

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Tips for Calf Feeding

During a recent Calf and Heifer VIP event hosted by Purina at the company’s Animal Nutrition Center in Gray Summit, Mo., calf experts offered advice on calf feeding:

  • It takes 85% less time for a calf to get 2 quarts of milk from a bucket compared to straight off the cow. It is 35% quicker on a nipple bottle versus off the cow
  • Feeding through a bottle with a nipple will help slow down the passage rate and increase salvia. Having saliva adds more enzymes that promote protein and fat digestion
  • Slowing down milk intake helps move digestion from the small intestine into the abomasum where nutrients will more readily be picked up
  • The hole in a nipple should not be too large in diameter. If it is too large it defeats the purpose of feeding with a nipple. This might require replacing nipples regularly when holes become too wide
  • If the nipple leaks milk when you turn it upside down, get a new nipple
  • “Full bucket syndrome” tends to happen with calves when there is more grain in the bucket than needed. For instance, a newborn or week-old calf isn’t going to eat much feed so there should be none to very little grain available starting out
  • A starter bucket that is shallow might be a better fit for younger calves to reduce feed waste or overfeeding. It also helps encourage calves to eat because they aren’t sticking their heads down where they can’t see
  • “Empty bucket syndrome” is another problem seen on dairies for older calves. Not having enough feed regularly to calves throughout the day can lead to calves eating too fast when they are fed causing digestive upsets or bloat
  • Use bright colored water buckets to help feeders see what is at the bottom of the bucket. Dark or black colored buckets are harder to see at the bottom if dirt or debris is present
  • Put a physical divider like plywood or plastic between the water and feed buckets
  • A trial from Purina showed that separating the feed and water with a divider increased average daily gain by 0.3 lb.
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Sorting Profits: Cows are Picky Eaters

Dairy cows selectively consume their rations, generally sorting longer particles in favor of finer particles. Feed sorting decreases fiber intake while increasing the consumption of grains and co-products. It also creates instances where cows eat different rations throughout the day.

Are Your Cows Sorting?

In 2010, researchers from University of Minnesota evaluated ration change over time in 50 Minnesota freestall barns. At each farm, samples were collected from rations fed to high-producing cows. One sample was collected immediately after the TMR was delivered, three additional samples were collected every two to three hours after feed delivery, and the last sample was taken from the accumulated weigh-backs.

Researchers evaluated particle size in the TMR samples using a threesieve Penn State Particle Separator. On average, the researchers found a noticeable change in the percentage of material retained in the top screen from the initial TMR to the weigh-backs showing cows were selecting against long particle size. In addition, fiber content—percent of neutral detergent fiber (NDF)— of the TMR increased throughout the day.

Similar results were obtained in a Canadian survey including 22 freestall herds. On average, the refused ration was higher in the percentage of long particles recovered in the top screen (19.8% versus 33.1%) and physically effective NDF (17% versus 24.5% dry matter) than the average offered ration.

Effects of Sorting on Milk Components

Feed sorting causes fluctuations in rumen fermentation patterns, and can result in reduced ruminal pH and episodes of subclinical ruminal acidosis. A recent study showed the association between sorting behavior and milk production. The researchers evaluated feeding behavior in 28 lactating Holstein cows individually housed in a tiestall barn at the University of Guelph.

Cows sorted against long particles and in favor of short and fine particles. On average, intake of the longest particles was 78%. Milk production of the group was 90.6 lb. per day with 3.81% and 3.30% protein. The authors found negative associations between feed sorting and milk composition. For every 10% increase in sorting against long particles:

  • Milk fat content decreased by 0.10 percentage units
  • Milk protein content dropped 0.04 percentage units

Because the average sorting against long particles in the group was 22%, milk fat was reduced by 0.22 percentage units or 0.2 lb. per cow per day due to sorting. Similarly, milk protein was reduced by 0.09 percentage units or 0.08 lb. per cow per day. Using values from September FMMO Advanced Component prices (fat $3.03 per pound and protein $1.54 per pound), the economic impact of sorting in this research herd was 72¢ per cow per day or $263 per year.

In conclusion, feed sorting is a common behavior of dairy cows that could produce health issues and economic losses in the herd.

Fernando Diaz, DVM, Ph.D. is a dairy nutrition and management consultant with Rosecrans Dairy Consulting LLC. You can reach him at fernando@jration.com

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Forage Analysis: What Numbers Do I Need

One the more common questions I receive with regard to analytical testing of forages and other feedstuffs is, “I have the sample, now what do I test for or what analysis package should I select?”

The basic components that nutritionists need to evaluate a feedstuff or develop a ration are dry matter or moisture, crude protein, an estimate of the energy content of the feedstuff — Total Digestible Nutrients (TDN), Net Energy for Maintenance (NEm), Net Energy for gain (NEg), and the macro minerals, Calcium and Phosphorous. These are the most basic numbers that are required but including some additional analyses in the report can give us additional insight into the quality of the feedstuff or improve our ability to predict animal performance, which is the primary reason we analyze feedstuffs.

I recommend that the report include acid detergent fiber (ADF) and neutral detergent fiber (NDF).  The amount of NDF in forage reflects the amount of cell wall contents (hemicellulose, cellulose, and lignin) within the sample. The NDF fraction is often associated with the respective bulkiness of forage and is correlated with dry matter intake of the forage or feedstuff. Therefore, the amount of NDF may be used to estimate the expected dry matter intake associated with the forage.  The ADF number represents the amount cellulose and lignin within the forage and is correlated with the respective digestibility of the forage.  In general, a higher ADF value is associated with forage that has a greater proportion cellulose and lignin and would likely be a more mature. Additionally, the ADF fraction is used to calculate the energy estimates TDN, NEm, and NEg that appear on the report. There are a number of different mathematical equations that the testing laboratory may use to calculate these numbers, based on the type of sample (corn silage, alfalfa, grass hay, etc.). If the ADF is included in the report, the nutritionist can adjust or recalculate the energy estimates if necessary.

If the forage will be fed in combination with a byproduct feed such as wet distiller’s grain, including an analysis for sulfur can be beneficial if the forage will be used in a growing or feedlot ration.  Additionally, if the forage is a known nitrate accumulator (forage sorghums, sudangrass) or may have been stressed due to drought, including a nitrate analysis should always be considered, especially if the forage will be fed to pregnant cows.

Most analytical laboratories have a number of different analysis packages which encompass the most common procedures or numbers that a nutritionist or producer needs to know about their feeds. These packages will typically include the basic procedures (DM, CP, TDN) and then add on specific analyses such NDF, or the Macrominerals (Ca,P, Mg, K, Na, Cl, S). Some laboratories may group analysis packages by the type of sample (Forage, vs. mixed ration) or production purposes (dairy vs. beef).

The objective of analytical testing of forages and feedstuffs is to improve our ability to meet the animal’s nutrient requirements and ultimately predict animal performance. The unequivocal best method of evaluating the quality of a feedstuff is feeding the feedstuff to an animal and evaluating performance over a set period of time, under a specific set of conditions. Since that would not be cost effective or timely, analytically evaluating feedstuffs in a laboratory is the next best the thing and although it is not perfect, it is unequivocally better than the “this looks like really good stuff” method of evaluating feedstuffs.

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A Whole Lot of Water Goes Into That Milk

Water is important for most species’ survival. Dairy cows, in particular, require large quantities to produce the creamy white liquid for which they are famous. It is important for dairy producers to provide plenty of water within a convenient location to keep their herd well hydrated.

“Cows need to consume between 30 and 50 gallons of water per day,” said Donna Amaral-Phillips, extension dairy specialist for the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture, Food and Environment. “That’s more than 415 pounds of water every day.”

That number may sound extremely high until the consumer realizes it takes up to 4.5 pounds of water to make just 1 pound of milk, and cows produce, on average, 70 pounds, or 8 gallons of milk each day, which is equal to about 128 glasses.

Milk is 87 percent water, and without sufficient water intake, a cow’s milk yield will suffer.

Dairy cows rely on saliva and other fluids to assist them in digesting feedstuffs. If they don’t get enough water it starts a chain reaction—digestion, feed intake and energy decrease.

“Managing water on a per-cow basis in a dairy herd can be quite difficult for any producer,” said Jeffrey Bewley, UK associate extension professor. “For this reason, dairy producers have to make decisions that benefit the entire herd. That’s why we allow the cows ample access to water at the UK Dairy—so they can drink as much as they want.”

Dairy managers have to make sure cows have access to water in the barn at a centrally located trough. Ideally, the trough will be near a feed bunk so it’s easy for cows to drink after eating. Cows usually drink the most after eating and after being milked.

“It’s important for the water trough to have enough space for multiple cows to drink at the same time,” he said. “Three to 5 inches of water space per cow is usually adequate, and the height of the trough should be 2 to 3 feet from the ground.”

One waterer per 20 cows will help ensure cows stay hydrated. The waterers should hold at least 5 gallons at time, with a refill rate of at least 2.5 gallons per minute to keep the fresh, clean water flowing. So while it may be hard to monitor each cow’s water intake, providing enough fresh water and space for the entire herd usually gets the job done.

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Prussic Acid and Nitrate Poisoning are Concerns After a Light Frost

Although late October has been very warm and “summer-like”, the average first frost date for much of the Southern Plains is here.  Soon a cold front will bring near-freezing to sub-freezing nighttime temperatures

It was discovered in the early 1900s that under certain conditions sorghums are capable of releasing hydrocyanic acid or commonly called prussic acid.  Prussic acid when ingested by cattle, is quickly absorbed into the blood stream, and blocks the animal’s cells from utilizing oxygen.  Thus the animal dies from asphyxiation at the cellular level.  Animals affected by prussic acid poisoning exhibit a characteristic bright red blood just prior to and during death.  Lush young regrowth of sorghum-family plants are prone to accumulate prussic acid especially when the plants are stressed such as drought or freeze damage.  Light frosts, that stress the plant but do not kill it, are often associated with prussic acid poisonings.

Producers should avoid grazing fields with sorghum type plants following a light frost.  The risk of prussic acid poisoning will be reduced, if grazing is delayed until at least one week after a “killing freeze”.  As the plants die and the cell walls rupture, the hydrocyanic acid is released as a gas, and the amount is greatly reduced in the plants.  One can never be absolutely certain that a field of forage sorghum is 100% safe to graze.

Cattle that must be grazed on forage sorghum pastures during this time of year should be fed another type of hay before turning in on the field, and should be watched closely for the first few hours after turn in.  If signs of labored breathing, such as would be found in asphyxiation, are noted, cattle should be removed immediately.  Call your local veterinarian for immediate help for those animals that are affected.  Be certain to read OSU Fact Sheet PSS-2904 “Prussic Acid Poisoning” before turning cattle to potentially dangerous fields.

Frosts also stress the plant before a hard freeze kills it.  Plant stress from frosts will impair the normal metabolism of the plant.  Therefore the plant continues to take up nitrates from the soil but is inefficient at converting the nitrates to protein.  Therefore nitrate accumulations may reach dangerous levels.  Testing the forage before grazing or cutting for hay will provide important knowledge about the safety or danger in the forage.  Visit with an OSU County Extension office about testing procedures and read OSU Fact Sheet PSS-2903 “Nitrate Toxicity in Livestock”.

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Five Colostrum Storage Tips

Maintaining colostrum quality should be a huge priority on the dairy. The quantity of colostrum a calf receives does not matter if the colostrum is junk. Here are five tips to ensure you’re storing and handling colostrum properly.

1. Don’t pool raw colostrum. Even if the colostrum is going straight into storage it should never be pooled, according to Kimberley Morrill, PhD regional dairy specialist Cornell Cooperative Extension.

2. Feed or refrigerate colostrum within one hour of collection. Colostrum can be stored in the fridge or the freezer. According to research from the National Animal Health Monitoring System of the dairy producers who store colostrum, 21% store it in the fridge and 73% of producers store colostrum in the freezer.

3. If storing in the fridge, only keep colostrum for one week. After that, Bethany Lovaas, DVM University of Minnesota, says quality declines. “If you refrigerate colostrum, be sure that the refrigerator is cold (33 – 35 degree F) to reduce the onset of bacterial growth,” she says.

4. Keep frozen colostrum for six months or less. While not everyone agrees on how long frozen colostrum can be stored without damage to the antibodies, Faith Cullens of Michigan State University Extension says most researchers agree the six month mark is safe.

5. Thaw frozen colostrum with warm water or a microwave. “The main concern regarding thawing frozen colostrum is to thaw the ice without degrading the immune proteins,” says Lovaas. She adds colostrum is best thawed with warm (not hot) water. Add more water to the bath as the frozen colostrum cools down the water. Alternately, Lovaas says colostrum can be thawed in a microwave oven with little damage to the Ig. “It is important to microwave the colostrum for short periods on low power,” she says.

 

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