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Posted: 11/28/2022
Newborn dairy calf laying in straw

Ultimate Guide to Colostrum for Calves

As the first milk produced after a newborn calf arrives, colostrum is chock full of nutrients, natural colostral fat and immunoglobulins/globulin protein. And it plays an incredibly important role in giving calves their best start. However, the quantity and/or quality of colostrum available may vary in each herd based on the possibility of disease transmission as well as management’s ability to accurately collect and store a herd’s colostrum.

Colostrum replacements and colostrum supplements can solve this problem for you and your calves. Knowing the difference – and the right one for your situation – is key, so let’s dig into the distinctions to help you find the best product available.

What Makes Colostrum So Critical?

Colostrum contains more than 90 compounds like immunoglobulins (IgG), which help newborn calves achieve passive transfer or immunity. The transfer of IgG in colostrum from their dam gives calves antibodies to ward off scours, respiratory illnesses and infections for up to five weeks of life. To take full effect, the calf must receive the colostrum within hours after they’re born because the newborn calf’s gut decreases in permeability 24 hours after birth, and IgGs also decrease. Colostrum also provides nutrients to the calves and stimulates their growth of bone, muscle, cartilage and more.

Wisk laying next to a pile of colostrum powder

The Difference Between Colostrum Replacers and Supplements

If you’ve ever been confused about the difference between a colostrum supplement (CS) and a colostrum replacer (CR), you’re not alone. When do you administer them, how much do you give, do you mix the two, and other common questions arise. The answer to these questions often lies in IgG.

A newborn calf needs 100 grams of IgG to achieve passive transfer. Colostrum replacers contain at least that level of IgG, along with the vitamins and minerals necessary for calf health. Just as the labeling suggests, these replace colostrum altogether. Supplements contain less than the 100 grams of IgG, because they work with maternal colostrum to build IgG levels. It’s worth noting that supplements will not make low-quality colostrum stronger. Low quality means lower IgG which leads to lower absorption of antibodies. In other words, a replacer may make more sense than supplementing a huge supply of low-quality colostrum.

Colostrum replacer makes more sense when:
  • You want to be proactive with disease prevention
  • Maternal colostrum may transfer disease
  • Quality or total intake of colostrum is uncertain
  • Staff is limited
  • Calves arrive at night

Check Colostrum Quality with a Colostrometer

Without testing the quality of your maternal colostrum, you won’t know if you need a supplement or a replacer. Be prepared with a colostrometer to measure your supply. The colostrometer works by measuring the thickness of a sample because it correlates to IgG content. The thermometer-like instrument will “float” in a green, yellow, or red zone to indicate quality level (with green being the highest). Just be careful to only use the instrument with room temperature samples. Colder samples will thicken and create higher, inaccurate results.

Top-Selling Colostrum Brands for Calves

Now that you’re up to speed on the difference between replacers and supplements, we want to recommend a few of our top-selling colostrum brands. These customer favorites offer a wide range of options, and you will find all of them and more on our Colostrum Products Comparison Chart. You’ll notice the different IgG levels in each, along with product size, mixing instructions, etc. to help find the best product for your herd.

Calf's Choice Total Colostrum

Calf’s Choice Total Colostrum

The Calf’s Choice Total Colostrum brand, manufactured by SCCL, are popular products and for good reason. SCCL’s years of research by veterinary immunologists equips the company to provide all-natural bovine colostrum products worldwide that have been tested for potency, purity, safety and efficacy. Two favorites include:
  • Calf's Choice Total Colostrum: With 100 grams of IgG and 20% fat, this USDA-approved product can be used as a total replacement for maternal colostrum in calves. Its antibodies protect against diarrhea and pneumonia, and the colostral fat delivers an important energy source calves need immediately after birth.
  • Calf's Choice Total Colostrum Gold: Use CCT Gold for calves that need extra immunity, either as a supplement or complete replacement for maternal colostrum. It mixes conveniently in under 15 seconds and can be stored at room temperature for up to three years.

Lifeline Colostrum

LIFELINE Colostrum

LIFELINE knows you get just one chance to start off those calves right, so they created nutrition solutions to meet their unique nutritional requirements. Their products offer plasma-derived functional proteins and are fed to more than 2.5 million young animals every year. Get 150 grams of IgG in a single feeding of LIFELINE’s Rescue Colostrum Replacer for Newborn Calves. It’s an ideal replacer for night-born, high-value and heifer's first calves, and it’s nutritionally equivalent to maternal colostrum.

Ultra Start 150 Plus Calf Colostrum Replacer

Calf Solutions

The calf-focused products from Calf Solutions are designed for dairy operations to deliver complete nutrition that maximizes a calf’s productivity potential. Try Ultra Start 150 Plus Calf Colostrum Replacer for optimal passive transfer and immunity support for calves. It’s made with 100% bovine colostrum from select U.S. Grade A dairy herds with a minimum of 150 grams IgG per feeding.


High-performance colostrum from NurseMate is manufactured in the U.S.A. and contains key bioactives to enhance a calf’s immune system. The NurseMate 100 Colostrum Replacer with Immu-PRIME for Calves works to improve colostrum absorption while activating the newborn’s cells for protection from disease. This natural bovine dried colostrum comes in a single-dose, easy-mix pack.

Additional Colostrum Replacers for Calves

Still weighing the options? Here are a few more customer favorites that will help give your calves a great start:

Do Calf Milk Replacers Have Colostrum?

No, a milk replacer does not contain colostrum. It follows the colostrum or colostrum replacer the calf receives at birth for feedings up to about 12 weeks of age (depending on their weight and solid food intake). Milk replacers have similar nutritional qualities to their mother's milk -- including crude protein, fat and fiber – but are used when the mother's milk is not available. During the winter or stretches of cold weather, calves need a milk replacer with 20% fat to help them stay warm.

Milk replacers are generally bought in bulk through a local feed store. However, we do carry the following multi-species milk replacer. 
  • Ultra 24 Multi Species Milk Replacer can be used as a dry powder supplement for dairy and beef calves, as well as foals, piglets, lambs and other livestock. It’s a preferred product of hobby farms and 4-H kids

Get Top-Selling Colostrum for Your Calves at PBS Animal Health

Is your colostrum supply enough to support your calves on their own? Whether you need a supplement or a complete replacer, PBS Animal Health has you covered with high-quality colostrum products. Don't forget to check out our Colostrum Products Comparison Chart for side-by-side review of everything we carry. Happy Calving!

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