Last week, a team of researchers at the UNH dairy farm released a report indicating that weather patterns and a cow’s previous lactation may play a factor in determining the production quality of colostrum, a nutrient-rich milk cows nourish their newborns with.

Peter Erickson, a professor of biological sciences and specialist in extension dairy who serves as the leading researcher on the team said he developed an algorithm that can predict colostrum quality. Erickson began developing the colostrum project in 2011, and hopes to release a dash board (app) that farmers can use to input data from weather patterns and the cows previous lactation to predict the quality of colostrum and better their herd.

The report states that the introduction of quality colostrum to a newborn calf will directly affect its health as an adult and, in turn, the amount of milk it is able to produce.

Therefore, by giving dairy farmers a tool that they can easily use to predict the quality of colostrum and guarantee that the newborn calf is getting the essential nutrients they need, the farmers will be able to maximize production in the future. 

Colleen Chapman, a PhD candidate and graduate student at UNH, said “The first secretions of the mammary gland (colostrum) are richer in nutrients and have more protein and fat than regular milk.  It is really important to give calves good colostrum because they are born without an immune system.  It is essential for a calf to get good colostrum within the first 12 hours after birth to create these antibodies.”   

According to the report, most dairy farmers test colostrum using two tools: a colostrometer or refractometer. While these methods are effective in estimating Immunoglobulin (IgG) concentration, which is any of a class of proteins present in the serum and cells of the immune system that function as antibodies, many dairy producers do not have access to these tools or do not take the time to test their colostrum prior to feeding. According to the United States Department of Agriculture, only 5.7 percent of U.S. dairy producers evaluated colostrum quality using a colostrometer.

The report indicates that eighteen herds were tested across the state and each produced different quality colostrum.  Researchers found that the poor quality colostrum is produced during the winter and theorize that in warmer temperatures the blood vessels of the cow dilate, causing them to be more permeable to IgGs, creating a better nutrient.

Additionally, it stated that there are approximately 130 dairy farms in New Hampshire with an average of 115 milking cows per farm. The New Hampshire dairy industry impacts state and local economies with more than $141 million in total economic output, more than 3,700 jobs and over $19 million in labor income, according to Granite State Dairy Promotion. 

Even if the mother can’t produce quality colostrum, farmers can supplement it with other mothers colostrum or by using an artificial source. By giving dairy farmers a tool that they can easily use to predict the quality of colostrum and guarantee that the newborn calf is getting the essential nutrients they need, the farmers will be able to maximize production in the future.

Executive Editor