Colostrum for Baby Goats

Episode 39
For the Love of Goats

Colostrum for Baby Goats

I’ve always referred to colostrum as liquid gold. Whenever someone asks me what they should give a kid when it’s born, the answer is short and simple — colostrum. When a kid is born, the number one goal is to get colostrum into it as soon as possible. After recording this episode, I am even more appreciative of this amazing food that mama goats make for their babies.

Dr. Robert VanSaun, a professor of veterinary science at Pennsylvania State University, returns to talk about all of the amazing properties of colostrum, as well as how much kids need, when they need it, and what can mess things up. (Hint: do not milk your goat before she kids!) 

Dr. VanSaun also talks about how you can tell if colostrum is higher or lower quality, including recent research and how to test colostrum. 

Frozen Colostrum
Frozen Colostrum. Notice how much darker the 12-hour colostrum is (on the left) than the 24-hour or 36-hour colostrum!

Other episodes with Dr. Robert VanSaun

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Want to learn more on how to raise your baby goats? Check out Raising Baby Goats: Essential Tips for Success


Deborah Niemann 0:18
Hello, everyone, and welcome to another episode. I am excited to be joined again today by Dr. Robert Van Saun, a professor of veterinary science at Pennsylvania State University. Welcome back to the show, Dr. Van Saun!

Robert Van Saun 0:34
Well, thank you very much. Glad to be here.

Deborah Niemann 0:37
You are such a wealth of information, of course, so it’s really exciting. And, after our last podcast recording, you mentioned that you’ve been doing some research on colostrum recently, which kind of just reminded me of the overall idea that a lot of people will ask like, “Is there anything I need to have available to give the babies as soon as they’re born?” And the answer really is “colostrum.” Like, it’s amazing stuff. So, I thought we would start out today: If you could just basically tell us a little bit about what makes colostrum so special, and why do baby ruminants have to have this within the first few hours of life?

Robert Van Saun 1:15
Great, yeah, this is certainly the single most important event in a newborn kid’s life. And this could be extended to almost any species, including humans. But, the big difference with our ruminant species, like our sheep and goats and cattle and so forth, is unlike what happens in humans. Maternal antibodies—so antibodies that mom has naturally against disease, whether it be through vaccinations or just natural exposures to disease that mom has acquired over her lifetime—she can directly share those antibodies. They’ll actually cross the placenta because there’s fewer layers of cells between maternal blood and human fetal blood. And so babies, human babies, are born with some level of immunity from mom. And then they also will consume colostrum, this very special first milk, and gain additional antibody. In contrast, our sheep, goat, other ruminants, even horses, the foals, there’s multiple cell layers between maternal blood and the blood system of the developing fetus. And so these complex proteins called “antibodies” cannot cross that. And so essentially, the newborn kid is born without… Basically without any kind of antibody protection at all. And so they are extremely susceptible. Now, they do have a functioning immune response. So if we raise that kid without colostrum, we could inject a vaccine and induce an immunologic response and allow that kid to develop its own antibodies. However, we know that that takes some time. And so, for us to be able to protect our newborn, we need to get colostrum. And what we really need is what we call “good-quality colostrum”—and that’s what we’ll get into—so that they can absorb these antibodies. And this then provides what’s called “passive transfer” or “passive immunity.” So mom is providing antibodies directly, and it’s a unique situation.

Robert Van Saun 4:02
Normally the gut, the small intestine, where most of the dietary nutrients are being absorbed, will not absorb intact proteins. We only have a capability of absorbing amino acids, which are the building blocks to proteins. However, in this very narrow window right after birth, there is special transport mechanisms that are in place that allow a whole large structure to be taken up by the small intestinal cells. And what should happen is the antibodies from mom don’t get digested and they just get directly absorbed. But that window—as soon as anything gets absorbed, then the whole gut starts to do what we call “close.” It shuts down that process so that the baby doesn’t absorb bacteria or other debris that might be in with the colostrum. So that’s another important point we should cover is, you know, making sure that our colostrum is well maintained and doesn’t have bacterial overgrowth. We’ve done some studies here at Penn State in calves and showed that if we let colostrum sit out at room temperature, it can develop a very rapid growth of bacteria since milk is a very good media for bacterial growth. And what we found is if bacteria is in the colostrum, these unique cells that absorb the proteins, as I just described, have no ability to differentiate a bacteria from the protein. And so they would absorb the bacteria just as well as they would absorb the protein. And so that means they’d absorb these bacteria directly into the bloodstream. And that could set up an infection there.

Deborah Niemann 6:09
Ah, that is a really good explanation there. I always kind of wondered how a kid could get some kind of an infection within the first couple days of life. Thankfully, it’s never happened here. But, great explanation there. So, like, if a doe gave birth in a really unfortunate place, and like there was mud on her udder and stuff like that, and the baby ingested mud…

Robert Van Saun 6:31

Deborah Niemann 6:32
…and feces…

Robert Van Saun 6:33
Absolutely. You know, if the kidding area isn’t prepared on time, somebody kids a little earlier than expected, and, you know, you haven’t gotten around to quite cleaning things out and getting all the fecal matter out, baby could be dumped into a pile of fecal pellets and absorb that, swallow that down. And that’s going to be a nice bacterial soup for those cells to absorb. And then that’ll start the closure process. And so then, if that kid ultimately does get some colostrum, the efficiency of absorption will be greatly reduced.

Deborah Niemann 7:12
Ah, this explains so much, because I know many years ago when we were still fairly new and we had a doe surprise us one time, and that was exactly it. Like, she gave birth out in the middle of the pasture—or actually was in a shelter. And it was summer, so there was no straw in there; the kids had, like, fecal pellets all over them, and dirt all over them and in their mouth and everything. And those three kids… They didn’t get in any kind of an infection immediately. But they were just so sickly, you know, forever, and two of them died when they were just a couple months old.

Robert Van Saun 7:46
Yeah. And that brings up a really good point in that we know, as I emphasized here already, that one of the most important things with colostrum is the provision of antibody for passive transfer in protecting the baby from disease. But we also know, it’s not just the antibody. We know that there are maternal white blood cells that are in colostrum; we know that there are growth factors—epidermal growth factor. insulin-like growth factors—and these things get absorbed also. And it’s thought that these cells and other growth factors are responsible for upregulating the immune response of the kid to sort of jumpstart it. And then, if that kid doesn’t get those kind of things, we have one that just is logy, doesn’t do well, doesn’t grow very well, more susceptible to problems, and ends up, you know, having some special challenges unless they get a lot of tender loving care. And even with that, you know, they’re still runts of the litter, so to speak.

Deborah Niemann 9:05
So, one thing that a lot of people wonder—and I’ve seen some different numbers on this—is how much colostrum kids need. Now, I know I dam-raise most of the time, and I don’t leave the barn until I’ve seen kids latch on by themselves at least a couple times, and the mom’s standing there being patient, then I feel okay leaving. I feel like they’re going to get enough. But, if you’re bottle-feeding, then I’ve seen that they need 5% within the first six hours, and then 10% within the first 24 hours. And I’ve also seen 20% in the first 24 hours. I know I personally… the more colostrum I can get into them, the better I will sleep at night.

Robert Van Saun 9:49
Yeah, well that… The rule of thumb is generally somewhere in the range of about 15% of body weight is what we’d like to get in them in the first 24 hours or so. Another way is thinking 1 ounce of colostrum per pound of body weight — and that should be in the first couple hours. So that’s the first big slug. But again, you know, we need to remember: It’s not just the volume, it’s the concentration and the amount of immunoglobulin. And that’s part of what we’ve done in our research and trying to define that for goats.

Deborah Niemann 10:27
Okay. So this is another question I get sometimes, and I personally have not seen a difference in this, because, you know, some does will have this colostrum that is super, super thick and dark-yellow and very sticky. And you’ve got that whole spectrum, all the way to, you know, almost looks like mature milk. Like, it’s a little thicker than mature milk, but nothing like, you know, the doe next door, whose is so thick, like, if you’re gonna bottle feed, it’s hard to get it through a nipple.

Robert Van Saun 10:57
Right, right. And that’s actually probably some of the better stuff. But again, we actually need to measure the immunoglobulin concentration, because, as you alluded to earlier, you know, these kids can only swallow so much. You can only pack so much into them. And this is the big problem we have in the dairy industry, is we’ve selected dairy cows for high milk production. And as a consequence, they produce more colostrum. But, unfortunately, Mother Nature is set up that it only delivers so much antibody into the mammary gland. And, if it gets diluted out by an excessive amount of liquid to make the colostrum, then we dilute down and have a very low concentration of antibody. And so, what we’ve learned over the years… We have a pretty good idea of that mechanism, special receptors that can transfer the immunoglobulin, the antibody proteins, from the blood into the mammary cells to be deposited into the colostrum. And there’s changes in hormones—progesterone, estrogen, prolactin—that sort of initiate and continue the colostrum synthesis process. But, as soon as that fetus gives the signal that it needs to be born, it shuts the colostrum synthesis process off. And so, then the mammary cells, the alveolar cells, start secreting milk. And so the longer we wait to harvest that colostrum after kidding, the more dilute that colostrum becomes with milk. Basically, the transfer of antibodies does not continue once that cortisol spike from the fetus occurs, signaling mom that “it’s time for me to get out.”

Deborah Niemann 13:05
Okay. And so this kind of brings up another question: That if a doe is at the very end of her pregnancy—and this usually happens, like, the day before she gives birth—and she decides to steal somebody else’s kid, and they’re nursing on her, can she run out of colostrum before her baby’s born?

Robert Van Saun 13:26
Yes. You know, that’s one of the challenges. Again, kind of extrapolating back to the dairy industry. One of the big problems we have in the dairy industry is a metabolic disease called hypercalcemia, or milk fever. You know, and we certainly see this in dairy goats sometimes. And, one of the practices that was used back in… Oh, I think it was 1960s, 1970s, is they thought that if they started to milk the cow before she gave birth, that would stimulate a calcium loss and signal the cow’s system to start upregulating calcium mobilization from bone, and increase calcium absorption from the gut. But what we ended up doing was, we ended up producing really poor colostrum. And so we had problems with calves. So milking beforehand, whether it’s done through, you know, a milking system or through a doe allowing a kid to nurse off of her, that’s going to adversely affect the quality of the colostrum she’s going to have for her kid.

Deborah Niemann 14:41
Okay. And so, it sounded like you were saying this, but I just want to be sure. So really, that really extra-thick colostrum really is more concentrated and probably better quality than the thinner stuff that we see?

Robert Van Saun 14:54
Generally, that would be the case. You know, because there’s a couple ways we can measure the quality of the colostrum. The ideal—the gold standard—would be to directly measure how much immunoglobulin, how many antibodies per mL of colostrum, is present. Okay? And again, until we’d done our recent research, nobody’s really defined what kind of concentration we should have for goats. For dairy cows, our goal is to have 50 milligrams per milliliter of IgG, which is the antibody type that’s found in colostrum. It’s almost exclusively IgG1; there’s IgG1 and IgG2. These are just two different types of proteins that make up these antibodies.

Deborah Niemann 15:45
Okay. And so go ahead, then, and tell us a little bit about your research and what you discovered.

Robert Van Saun 15:53
Alright, so I got involved in working with a large goat dairy in Northern California on some nutrition. And, one of my honors students was interested in doing a project. And we were going to, out of interest, look at the colostrum. Our intent of the study, actually, was to use these handheld meters that people use to measure their glucose concentration for diabetics. And so, one of the most devastating metabolic diseases we see in our dairy goats is pregnancy toxemia. And so, one of the challenges we have with that disease is recognizing the disease early enough to intervene so that we don’t have to do the abortion or the cesarean section and potentially lose, you know, kids as well as the doe. And so, in the dairy cattle industry, we’ve been using these handheld meters to measure the ketone body, called “beta-hydroxybutyrate,” as a measure of lactational ketosis, a metabolic disease very common in high-producing dairy cows. And so, one of the diagnostic features of pregnancy toxemia is, of course, low blood glucose and high blood ketones.

Robert Van Saun 17:25
And so, we were using this handheld meter to try and validate it in dairy goats in hopes that, you know, this could be something done right on the farm, not a high cost, you know, where your veterinarian would have to come and take blood and run it to the lab, and then you have to wait for the results, and things like that. And, one of the kind of interests since we were already involved in working with these pregnant does, is we decided that, you know, it’d be easy enough to collect colostrum samples, and then evaluate the kids by taking a blood sample and evaluating how well they absorbed the immunoglobulin. Because, really, there just isn’t a lot of data out there in our small ruminants, whether it be sheep, which is a project we’re doing right now, or goats. And so, this farm collected colostrum samples when they were tending to the kiddings, and they measured how much colostrum. They had a standard protocol; we just allowed them to follow their standard protocol. And what we did then is followed what was done in some research on the dairy side using a new instrument called the Brix Refractometer. This is a very common instrument that’s used by winemakers, by graziers, you know, looking at sugars and things. And this study, a few years ago, basically showed that the relationship between the Brix measurement and immunoglobulin in the colostrum of a dairy cow was strongly correlated. And what they determine that is if you got a Brix value of 22, that was consistent with the concentration being 50 milligrams per milliliter or greater. And, of course, as it goes up, it gets even higher. So we did the same thing. And we found, basically, in dairy goats, almost the same relationship. We found that there was a high correlation—a high statistical association—between our Brix measurement and what we measured directly by identifying the antibody concentrations. And what we found in our goats—and again, we’ve got to remember these were dairy goats. And I think If you’re dealing with Nigerians or some of our meat goats, things probably are going to be a little bit different, because they’re not going to be making as much colostrum. And they’re probably going to have thicker and more concentrated colostrum, similar to the relationship that we see between dairy cows and beef cattle. Beef cattle, have a higher colostrum concentration of antibody compared to what, typically, dairy cows do. And our early work from our sheep is supporting that. You know, these aren’t dairy sheep; these are your traditional wool and meat sheep that we’re working with. And their immunoglobulin concentration is much higher than what we see in goats.

Robert Van Saun 20:45
But, what we found was the concentration of immunoglobulin, or IgG1, in goat colostrum was closer to… It was a Brix of about 20., and it was running about 72 milligrams per mL. So much more concentrated than what the dairy cow was. So we were a little confused with that, because we thought, “Well, if the relationship is similar, why is it more concentrated at a similar Brix value.?” And I think that has to do with differences in protein and fats in the colostrum. So, we need to establish species-specific criteria for this; we just can’t use dairy cattle, you know, criteria in evaluating this. And what we had is quite a range. I mean, the quality of the colostrum that we measured, the average, as I said, was about 70-72 milligrams per mL, but it ranged from as low as 4.2 to 180 milligrams per mL.

Deborah Niemann 22:07

Robert Van Saun 22:07
Yeah. You know, and it’s very time-dependent. They got the colostrum into the kids… On average, the first feeding was within 60 minutes. But it ranged on up to a couple hours. And so, the colostrum that they collected a number of hours after they kidded probably was getting diluted pretty quickly. Because again, these were high-producing dairy goats. And so they were really wanting to make milk. So, we’re seeing a tremendous range. And so, that’s consistent with what we see in other species, and that brings up the importance of why we should be evaluating, because that kid—if you get the same volume, you know, what I gave you: one ounce per pound of body weight. You know, if it’s only got 4 milligrams per mL versus 180, there’s gonna be a big difference in that response of those kids.

Deborah Niemann 23:10
Wow, so it really just re-emphasizes the importance of getting colostrum into the kids as quickly as possible after birth, and also making sure that they’re getting enough. They’re continuing to nurse.

Robert Van Saun 23:24
Right. And why we’ve done what we’ve done is, you know, obviously, I think you were describing the colostrometer, that kind of floating specific gravity thing, where you have to collect a fair amount of volume, and then you put it in, and, you know, we don’t even know how that’s calibrated. You know? I mean, it’s probably calibrated to dairy cattle criteria. So, I’m not familiar enough with what calibration. And we know that the colostrometer for dairy cows is dependent on the temperature of the colostrum. Now, we published a study back in the 80s, when I was at Cornell, that showed the temperature of the colostrum changed the evaluation of that colostrum with the colostrometer, even though it’s the same stuff. So, what’s unique about this Brix Refractometer is it’s a handheld little machine, and all you have to do is put a drop of colostrum on the window, close the hatch of it, and then push the button, and it gives you the reading. So it’s not a real involved process. It’s something you could do right then and there. And, if that colostrum is really low, then you might want to think about, “Do I have some frozen colostrum I can use that’s better?” You know, or something along that line. And, what we also found was, we took samples of fresh colostrum and measured them with Brix, then we froze them and stored them, and then we thought them and measured it again. And there’s no difference in the Brix measurement from fresh to frozen. So, you know, even if you have frozen colostrum and you didn’t measure it, you could thaw it and measure it to see, you know, what kind of good colostrum it is. And so, then you can basically start to bank colostrum based on quality, and emphasize the best quality colostrum to the replacement kids that you want to keep, and then use the lower quality colostrum for, like, third, fourth, fifth feedings, or something like that.

Deborah Niemann 25:36
That sounds fascinating. I know when I first read your research, I then Googled Brix Refractometers, and found some that were only about $50, which sounds… I mean, that’s not a huge price to pay to be able to get this information. Because, what I’m thinking where this might be really helpful, especially, is just another thing to add to my Ziploc bag when I freeze colostrum for future use. I’ve already got quite a bit of information on there. I thought I was doing pretty good, you know, because I put on there, like, “12 hour colostrum,” “24 hour colostrum,” and that kind of stuff. And assuming that, like, the older it gets, the more dilute it’s gonna get.

Robert Van Saun 26:15
Oh, yeah, yeah, we have serial measurements—

Deborah Niemann 26:18
Mm hmm.

Robert Van Saun 26:19
—in the field. Dr. Mary Smith, up at Cornell, she was the one who actually got me going on this project. Because she called me up one day, and she was on a farm, and they were having all kinds of kid death loss. And, one of the things they were concerned about was colostrum and colostrum management. So, you know, she just applied what she knew from dairy cattle and started doing some Brix, but then she couldn’t find any data that helped her to interpret the Brix. So she called me, and I said, “That sounds like a great study.” And so, that’s where we went from there. But, it turns out that kids that were fed colostrum that had a Brix of, like, 12 to 15 to 16? They were the ones who died.

Deborah Niemann 27:05
Ooh. Okay, so only 12 to 16 Brix in the colostrum is not good.

Robert Van Saun 27:12
Not good. Not good.

Deborah Niemann 27:13
Okay. So, if you were checking this, like, before freezing it, would you want to say that you want it to be at least 20 before you would?

Robert Van Saun 27:20
Oh, yeah, yeah. You’d want it to be up around, I would say, between 20 and 25 would be sort of that lower end right now. We still need to do a little bit more of flushing out the data that we have. But, the more we can get the blood IgG in the kid up, the better. And so, you know, if you’re doing your freezing, and you’re putting information on there, we have really good data that shows a very steep decline from time of kidding to 3 hours to 6 hours and then really down at 24 hours. So, what I would do is, I would basically write the Brix value on the bag, and the higher the Brix, that’s the one you want to get in to the newborns and the kids that you really want to make sure they’re going to do well.

Deborah Niemann 28:12
Okay. And then, speaking of storing colostrum, how long is colostrum good when it’s stored in a deep freezer below 0?

Robert Van Saun 28:21
Oh. Dr. Heinrichs here at Penn State does a lot of calf colostrum studies that have stored for years, like five years. And it’s still good.

Deborah Niemann 28:31
Cool. All right. And that—and by “still good,” you mean like still has a high…

Robert Van Saun 28:36
So IgG is high. Yep. Yep.

Deborah Niemann 28:39

Robert Van Saun 28:39
There’s no degradation there.

Deborah Niemann 28:41

Robert Van Saun 28:42
You know, but again, how you thaw it… You should be thawing it in, you know, warm water, not microwaved and stuff. Because you could overheat certain parts of it and destroy the proteins.

Deborah Niemann 28:53
Yes, I had… I knew that if you overheat colostrum that it can get—it can turn into custard.

Robert Van Saun 29:01
Oh, yeah. That’s a delicacy in Norway.

Deborah Niemann 29:04
Yeah. And I’ve done it. I accidentally did that once. And it was really, really sad because it was a very large quantity of colostrum, so… Normally, if you’re going to heat-treat colostrum that is normally done at 135 degrees, right?

Robert Van Saun 29:22
Yeah, I think that’s 133 to 135, or 60 degrees Celsius, for 30 minutes.

Deborah Niemann 29:29
Okay. Yeah. Because if you go higher, this is when it turns into pudding.

Robert Van Saun 29:34
Yep. Turns into pudding. That’s right. Colostrum pudding.

Deborah Niemann 29:39
Yes. Well, this has been very interesting! Is there anything else that someone needs to know about colostrum for their baby goats?

Robert Van Saun 29:49
Well, from the colostrum side—other than the antibodies, and the things that help the kid grow, help its immune system turn on, that we talked about—colostrum also has higher concentrations of trace minerals than what milk does. Milk is very deficient in trace minerals, especially copper. And colostrum is higher. Not extremely high, but it is higher. As I think we may have talked about when we were talking about selenium, the trace minerals are passed across the placenta very efficiently, and they’re stored in the liver of the fetus. So that’s an important part. So, we really want to get a good mineral program into our pregnant doe. But one thing that doesn’t cross the placenta very well are the vitamins—vitamin A, vitamin D, and vitamin E. So our fat soluble—what we call our “fat soluble”—vitamins. But they are highly concentrated in colostrum if mom has been supplemented. And so that’s another big thing, because vitamin A, of course, is very important for gut health and respiratory epithelial health. And it’s a strong antioxidant and stimulator of the immune response. And so, a vitamin-A deficiency can lead to higher risks of diarrhea, of respiratory disease, and even, later on in life, urinary calculi, because a vitamin-A deficiency causes changes to the epithelium of the lining of the urethra, allowing cells to shed, and then that allows the minerals to congregate or coalesce around to form the calculi.

Deborah Niemann 31:45
Oh, wow, that’s really interesting. In my email to you, I said “colostrum is liquid gold,” and—

Robert Van Saun 31:52
Oh, yeah.

Deborah Niemann 31:52
I know. If there’s something more precious than gold, I think it needs to be graduated.

Robert Van Saun 31:58
“Liquid platinum,” or something.

Deborah Niemann 32:00
Yeah, like, it’s just incredible. And, you know, when people say, like, “Is there anything else I need to have?” I’m like, “No, you need to get the colostrum into them.”

Robert Van Saun 32:09
That’s a good point. We probably should address the after-effect here. Obviously, our goal is to try and get as much immunoglobulin into the kid as possible. And so, now the question is: “What’s adequate?” And there’s very little data at all. We did this and—again, if we use our benchmark of calves—in calves, we try and get a concentration of 10. Ten milligrams per mL of immunoglobulin in the blood of the calf. And we can measure that starting at about two days after birth on up to about seven days. That’s the best window to evaluate how well the colostrum got transferred. But we didn’t know if that was the same for kids. I had some other data from calves, some recent work that came out of Poland, that showed the higher you go—like, if you went up to 15 or 20 milligrams per mL—they were much more resistant to diarrhea cases, severity of diarrhea, and respiratory, so. So really, it’s one of those true “If a little’s good, a lot’s better” kind of phenomenon. I usually don’t promote that concept. But when it comes to antibody, that’s probably good.

Robert Van Saun 33:32
So, we did do this measurement. We found that the average serum concentration of immunoglobulin in our goat kids that were fed the colostrum that we’ve described was basically 15.3 milligrams per mL. So, higher than what we typically see in calves. So that means that’s probably a benchmark that we should be shooting for. We’re suggesting we need to get up to 15. Now, it’s expensive to measure IgG directly. And so there’s an indirect method of measuring IgG. We can measure what’s called “total protein” in the blood. And this could be done with the refractometer. It’s a different scale. It’s not the Brix scale. But many of these handheld refractometers can measure Brix as well as total protein. So, again, using calves as our benchmark, we’d like to see blood total protein above 5.5. And, if it’s between 5 and 5.5, that’s considered partial failure of passive transfer, and if it’s below 5, it’s failure of passive transfer. Well, what we found with our kids is that the average concentration of total protein was 6. So, actually, quite good, but again, we had a range of 4.5 to 7.2. And so, what our recommendation now is, you know, 6 and above is what we would consider successful passive transfer; 5.5 to 6 is probably partial of failure, and then below 5.5. So just a slightly higher scale, and that would be consistent with what we observed as being a higher blood concentration of the immunoglobulin.

Robert Van Saun 35:35
One last thing we got to touch on, though.

Deborah Niemann 35:38

Robert Van Saun 35:39
How much did they get? We measured, and to get these to achieve this 6 grams per deciliter of total protein, 15 milligrams per mL of serum IgG, we fed a total IgG load of 36 grams. Now, the reason I bring that up, Deborah, is the commercial products that are out there that are colostrum supplements, or colostrum replacers, are less than 1/10 of that amount.

Deborah Niemann 36:17
Wow, that’s not good.

Robert Van Saun 36:19
No. So that underscores, highlights, does everything to say: You cannot do better than Mother Nature. Get that colostrum into them. You’re not going to make up for it by feeding these colostrum replacers or supplements.

Deborah Niemann 36:40
Yeah. And, I think a lot of people when they first get started feel like they need to have that in the cabinet just in case. Which, I did too, when I was brand new. But then, I kind of came to the realization that a doe is not just gonna drop dead on you in the middle of labor. Or, like, the second her kid comes out. Like, a kid comes out, and then she just drops dead, you know? It’s like, if she gives birth, then you can get colostrum. You should be able to get colostrum from her.

Robert Van Saun 37:09
You should be able to get colostrum out of her, yeah.

Deborah Niemann 37:11
Yeah. And that’s… One of the things we do, which I really, really encourage people to do, is to weigh their kids when they’re born, and then 12 hours later, and then 24 hours later, because you really don’t know. Like, if you don’t do that, you’re not gonna know you have a problem until you walk in and you see either a dead kid or a kid that’s laying there on its side and can’t even lift its head.

Robert Van Saun 37:35

Deborah Niemann 37:36
And then you have to figure out how to save it. So, this is all such really great information. Thank you so much. This is just wonderful.

Robert Van Saun 37:46
Oh, you’re welcome.

Colostrum for Baby Goats pin graphic

6 thoughts on “Colostrum for Baby Goats”

  1. Is the ability to produce high-quality colostrum a genetic trait? How is it affected by nutrition? Or the age of the doe? What can we do to help our does produce the highest-quality colostrum she is capable of?

    • So sorry for the delay! I wanted to ask Dr. VanSaun, and it just took me a few days to email him! Here is his response …

      There is some genetics on colostrum volume that is increases through the selection of animals with higher milk production. Nutrition during pregnancy can impact colostrum from a volume and quality perspective. Energy and protein in the late pregnant doe diet will influence volume as indicated by some work completed in Scotland by JJ Robinson. There is not much work addressing impacts of dietary protein on immunoglobin concentration, but we do know there is much variation in immunoglobin concentration in colostrum samples from does. The amount of immunoglobin in colostrum is a function of the immune response of the doe. Older does have been exposed to more pathogens and received more vaccinations, thus generally have higher immunoglobin content. Vaccinating does 3 and 6 weeks prior to expected kidding would help to increase immunoglobin content. Certainly dietary protein sufficiency is needed to support this protein transfer as well as maintaining the doe’s immune response. Remember trace minerals and vitamins will be concentrated in colostrum and are essential to the newborn kid.

      • Fascinating listen. Is colostrum production triggered by the hormones associated with birth, or simply the first milk that comes in?

        I have a doe whose milk just came in 5 weeks before her due date. She’s been leaking when she lays down. I have not milked her yet because I’m worried about milking out the colostrum, but now obviously am getting concerned about the mastitis risk as she is very full. It’s also possible the best colostrum had already leaked out. I’m wondering if I milk her now if she’ll still produce colostrum at kidding time or not based on the release of hormones.

        Probably a good idea to have replacer on hand in this case, but based on this the replacer is incomparable! No other does freshening this year, so I can’t borrow some from another doe…

        • Colostrum is the first milk. If you did not hear Dr. VanSaun in this episode talk about the research they did in cows decades ago, he must have talked about it in the hypocalcemia episode. Basically someone got the weird idea that if they started milking cows before they calved that they would be less likely to get hypocalcemia. Well, that was a very bad idea. They had zero difference in the rate of hypocalcemia, and they had a lot of sickly calves because the colostrum was so diluted. But there is a BIG difference between leaking and having humans milking twice a day. Leaking is not the same as emptying out the udder. You see does leaking at shows, and it makes absolutely zero difference in the size of their udder. Even though it looks like she has a fairly decent sized udder now, it will get a LOT bigger within the day before she kids, and that will be all good colostrum. So I wouldn’t worry about it. My students laugh because I call it the “wow!” udder. Even after 21 years, I still look at does towards the end of pregnancy and think that it’s really big, but then when I walk in the day they’re kidding, I still say, “Wow!!!” when I see their udder.

          • Well, she ended up getting mastitis so I’ve had to milk her. She’s getting better quickly. I’m going to see about sourcing some colostrum from some local goat friends so I don’t have to rely on the replacer.

            • Great idea to get colostrum from friends. Just be sure that their herds have tested 100% negative for diseases.


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