SCCL Colostrum Applications Conference
25th January, 2024 – Edinburgh University’s Easter Bush Campus
A crowd of industry experts, including scientists, veterinarians and farmers, gathered at the University of Edinburgh’s Easter Bush Campus for SCCL’s Colostrum Applications Conference – part of the Canadian company’s 30th anniversary celebrations.
Founded in 1994 as the Saskatoon Colostrum Co. Ltd, the company’s primary goal was to create a product to help reduce failure of passive transfer. After developing a method for collecting excess maternal colostrum and turning it into a colostrum powder, the company existed virtually until its first facility was built in Saskatoon, in 2006. SCCL now collects colostrum from around 1 million cows around the world, including 380 farms in Scotland, with its products distributed globally.
Conference attendees heard from a variety of speakers detailing how far the company has come in terms of research and technological advances, plus there was feedback from farmers and vets explaining the benefits and improvements they have experienced having used SCCL colostrum products.
Leading immunology and infectious disease expert, Dr Manuel Campos, discussed the many factors that affect the variability of maternal colostrum, including the time of milking, the climate and seasonality. He highlighted that absorption is as important as the quality of the colostrum, pointing out: “Anything that stresses the calf will affect the absorption, therefore, calf care is extremely important. In the past, the person that wasn’t particularly good at any other jobs got the job of looking after the calves, but in reality, it is the most capable person that should be the calf rearer.”
Dr Campos also advocated the use of colostrum powder to enrich cow colostrum, saying: “Don’t see it as an expense – see it as an investment.”
Large-scale dairy farmer, Will Prichard, whose family run three dairy herds in West Wales, milking 950 cows on a grass-based system, described the issues he has faced, with high levels of calf mortality.
“With our climate, it’s really tricky to get the environment right, with varying temperatures. We could see we were losing too many calves and more so once the cows were calving inside, but we couldn’t get on top of the problem. We also have the added challenge of being in a TB prevalent area, so we were not able to feed the calves transition milk for fear of spreading disease.”
Mr Prichard’s wife, Alex, came on board to manage the calf rearing. They purchased a pasteuriser and on the advice of their vet, Ryan Davies, they also began feeding SCCL’s Calf’s Choice Total colostrum to every calf at birth. Mr Davies explained: “There was a pattern of increasing morbidity and mortality on the farm; the challenge was beating the immunity. To reverse that, we needed to increase the immunity – improve the transfer of passive immunity.”
The team have seen huge improvements, with antibiotic usage dramatically down and morbidity falling from a 45% five-year average to 17% in 2023. Dr Davies added: “It is still an ongoing process, but there has been notable increased productivity, reduced treatment costs, improved animal welfare and consequently, better staff morale, as a result of the changes they have made.”
Ryan Davies speaking at the SCCL Conference
The topic of using colostrum powder to mimic transition milk for newborn calves, was discussed by vet and SCCL’s director of technical services, Dr Travis White. He recommended adding colostrum powder to the calf’s whole milk or milk replacer diet for the first two weeks of life, to provide ongoing nourishment and maintain gut health. In trials, this has also been found to improve average daily weight gain and reduce incidence of scours. Dr White said that length is key, adding: “A longer period on a lower dose is better than a shorter period on a heavier dose.”
With calf scour being one of the biggest causes of deaths and disease in pre-weaned dairy calves, Dr White outlined trial results showing the success of colostrum when used in the treatment of calf scour.
He said: “Mother nature dictates that calves should get plenty colostrum when born, then a period with transition milk, then whole milk. That’s the ideal and that’s what we need to recreate. Colostrum is vital in restoring gut health.”
Professor in farm animal health and production at the Royal Dick Vet School and the Roslin Institute, Dr Alastair Macrae, highlighted the benefits of testing colostrum for immunoglobulin levels and discussed the accuracy of the various types of tests available, including direct and indirect methods. Further to the type of test, he said, it is vital that the right calves are chosen to test. They should be under one week of age (ideally 24-36 hours old) and have no evidence of clinical disease or dehydration. They should also be representative of the group (for example, not twins or the result of a difficult calving). In addition, he said it is important to sample enough calves; ideally 20 per group, but certainly a minimum of 12.
Dr Macrae added: “Finally, what you do with the test results is equally important. There’s no point testing if you’re not going to make any changes.”
The ideal amount of IgG in colostrum was an ongoing topic of discussion throughout the day. It has been widely thought that the goal in feeding colostrum is to achieve a serum IgG concentration of 10mg/ml. However, recent trial results have shown that this figure may have been largely underestimated. Scientist and expert in gastrointestinal health and development in cattle, Dr Michael Steel, agreed that the amount of IgG should be far more than previously thought, which can be achieved through supplementation. He also stressed the benefits of using colostrum as a treatment for diarrhea.
He said: “Survival can be dramatically different through supplementation and several weeks after weaning, the effects of supplementation can be noticed.” With regards to the feeding method of colostrum, Dr Steel said: “Getting it into them in the first hour of life is really beneficial. The timing of getting the colostrum into the calf is a lot more important than the feeding method.”
But it’s not just calves that benefit from good colostrum management. Dr Juliana Mergh Leao, an expert in small ruminants, emphasised the benefits of good quality colostrum for lambs – improving their ability to survive; their productivity; their gut development; and their reproductive efficiency. She said: “There are 31.8 million sheep in the UK and the mortality rates are far too high. They need colostrum at birth – especially with the weather in the UK.”
Dr Mergh Leao recommended using colostrum powder as a defence – replacing, supplementing or enriching maternal colostrum on day one. She suggested it can then be used to mimic transition milk during the first two weeks of life and also as a restorative product, to rebuild health during times of stress.
VetSalus promotes best practice but does not endorse specific veterinary products