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Lactation, weather predict milk quality in dairy cowsLactation, weather predict milk quality in dairy cows

Colostrum quality lower in winter, and cows with more past lactations have higher colostrum quality in the future.

February 16, 2016

2 Min Read
Lactation, weather predict milk quality in dairy cows

The quality of colostrum — the nutrient-rich milk newborn dairy calves first drink from their mothers — can be predicted by the mother's previous lactation performance and weather, according to new research from the New Hampshire Agricultural Experiment Station at the University of New Hampshire (UNH).


UNH researchers found that previous lactation performance data can predict colostrum quality: The more lactations the cow has had in the past, the higher the quality of colostrum in the future. This finding may allow dairy producers to predict colostrum quality before the calf is born and the ability to estimate immunoglobulin G (IgG) content — the primary measure of colostrum quality — of the colostrum without having to collect it.

Colostrum is a concentrated source of nutrients, including fats, proteins (plus IgG), carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals. It is essential for supporting the health of the young dairy animal. Previous research has found that inadequate feeding of quality colostrum to newborn calves can result in reduced growth rates, increased risk of disease and death, increased risk of being culled and decreased milk production in the first and second lactations, UNH said.

The research was conducted by UNH doctoral graduate Rosemarie Cabral, UNH doctoral students Colleen Chapman and Kayla Aragona, former UNH undergraduate student Elizabeth Clark, extension assistant professor and dairy specialist Michael Lunak and professor of biological sciences and extension dairy specialist Peter Erickson. The research was presented in the current issue of the Journal of Dairy Science.

"The long-term effects of colostrum determine the success of the cow, and therefore, special care should be taken to ensure colostrum of the highest quality is provided to the newborn calf," Erickson said.

Currently, dairy farmers can test colostrum using two tools: a colostrometer or refractometer. While these methods are effective in estimating IgG concentration, many dairy producers do not have access to these tools or do not take the time to test their colostrum prior to feeding.

Researchers also found that the poorest-quality colostrum was produced during the winter. The researchers theorized that in warmer temperatures, the blood vessels of the cow dilate, causing them to be more permeable to IgG. This increased permeability of the blood vessels may lead to improved colostrum.

"It is apparent from these studies that environmental temperature or day length has an impact on colostrum quality," the researchers said.

New Hampshire has approximately 130 dairy farms, with an average of 115 milking animals per farm. The New Hampshire dairy industry generates more than $141 million in total output, more than 3,700 jobs and more than $19 million in labor income for state and local economies, according to Granite State Dairy Promotion.

Besides the UNH Fairchild Dairy Teaching & Research Center, the research was conducted at 17 commercial dairy farms in New Hampshire.

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