It’s common knowledge that animals need to suckle soon after birth, but why is it important?
Animals are born without immunity to disease and rely on colostrum (the first milk) from its mother until its own immune system develops at one to two months of age.
The health and survival of an animal is dependent upon how quickly and how much colostrum it drinks in its first few hours of life.
Colostrum is concentrated in essential proteins called immunoglobulins, which protect the animal against disease in its early life.
These immunoglobulins can initially be absorbed from the animals’ stomach directly into the bloodstream, but only for the first 24 hours.
If animals do not receive sufficient, high quality colostrum during the first 24 hours, they will be more susceptible to disease.
The most common cause of insufficient colostrum intake is a difficult birth, which reduces the ability of the animal to suckle.
Early bonding between the young animal and its mother will also maximise the chance of the animal receiving sufficient colostrum.
Pregnant animals can be vaccinated prior to giving birth, to ensure their colostrum is of high quality.
Producers may wish to have a stored supply of quality colostrum available, achieved by freezing high-quality colostrum collected from the first milking. Supplements are typically less efficient at giving immunity.
If an animal receives insufficient colostrum from its mother, it may be fed stored colostrum using a nipple bottle or stomach tube.
Finally, colostrum may provide good immunity, but it will not overcome the effects of an animal born in a dirty environment.