NC State Extension Publications

What is colostrum?

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Colostrum is the first thick yellowish milk produced by the doe after birth. Colostrum contains a high concentration of maternal antibodies (immunoglobulins), vitamin A, minerals, fat and other sources of energy. Antibodies are proteins which help the goat kid develop its immune system to fight diseases.

When should colostrum be ingested by, or fed to newborn kids?

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Newborn kids have limited energy reserves and need rapid access to colostrum to maintain body temperature and survive, especially those born during cold weather. Therefore, colostrum should be ingested or bottle-fed (in case of weak kids) very early in life as soon as kids have a suckling reflex. In cases of extremely weak kids, they should be tube-fed. The producer must be certain that all newborn kids get colostrum soon after birth such as within the first hour after birth, and certainly within the first 6 hours after birth.

Why is it important for kids to ingest colostrum so early in their life?

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1) The concentration of antibodies in the colostrum of the doe decreases rapidly after the first 6 to 12 hours of giving birth and 2) The maximal capacity of newborn kids to absorb antibodies is believed to persist for 6 hours after birth, with most absorptive capacity absent by 24 hours of age. In addition, it is important that the antibodies in colostrum be consumed before kids suck on dirty, pathogen-loaded parts of their mother or stall.

How do you know if a kid has ingested enough colostrum by suckling its mother?

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Check the kid for a full tummy by placing it on the ground on its feet, supporting its own weight. Stand over it, facing the same direction that the kid is facing. Place your hands in front of the back legs on both sides of its tummy. The tummy should feel firm, not hard and not squishy.

How much colostrum should kids consume?

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It is recommended that newborn kids ingest 10% of their body weight in colostrum during the first 12 to 24 hours of life for optimum immunity. For bottle-feeding, proceeds as follows:

1) Weigh the newborn kid

2) Convert its weight into ounces. Calculate 10% of total body weight in ounces, divide that number by four feedings, and feed that amount of colostrum over a 24-hour period.

Example for a 5 lb kid

- 5 lb kid x 16 oz/lb = 80 oz

- 80 oz x 10% = 8.0 oz per day

- 8.0 oz into 4 feedings = 2.0 oz per feeding

- Us a baby bottle and wash it thoroughly between feedings.

If not careful, you can quickly over-feed a newborn or a very young kid. A kid may suckle until it drops if you let it as it doesn't know how much too much milk is. In addition, a kid has to have enough time between feedings to digest the milk in its stomach or undigested milk will accumulate and kill the kid.

After the period of colostrum feeding, use goat milk replacer, not cow milk replacer, as research has shown cow milk replacer can kill kids because it may contain too much copper and kids are very sensitive to copper. Later on in life, once they become multigastric ruminants while still suckling, they can handle copper as calves do.

The amount of milk changes as the kid grows, and the percentage of milk to body weight increases too. But by about two to three weeks of age, the kid is much more physically active and eating some solid food, so the chance of over-feeding on milk is lessened.

What should you do with extra colostrum?

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The extra colostrum produced by high lactating does during the first 24 hours following kidding can be frozen for later use when needed. Only first milking from healthy animals should be frozen for later feeding, and the colostrum from older animals that have been on the farm for several years is typically higher in antibodies against domestic or native-born pathogens than is colostrum from first fresheners.

Revaccination against tetanus and enterotoxemia (over-eating disease) 4 to 6 weeks before the kidding date is commonly used to improve the protective value of the colostrum against these conditions. Check the factsheet 'Vaccinating Goats Against Enterotoxemia and Tetamnus: Is it Necessary?' under Health for more information.

How should you freeze extra colostrum?

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Ice cube trays are ideal containers: once frozen, cubed colostrum can be stored in larger containers and the trays used for another batch. Ice cubes are the perfect size for newborn kids, because thawed colostrum is always fresh, and wastage is reduced to a minimum.

How should you thaw extra colostrum?

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It is recommended to thaw colostrum either at room temperature or at a fairly low temperature. Using water to thaw colostrum (put the colostrum ice cubes in a pan within a pan), make sure that you can leave your hand in the water; if not, it is too hot. Colostrum should never be overcooked during the thawing process and never thawed in a microwave oven, otherwise antibodies will be killed by the high temperature.


Extension Specialist (Goats & Forage Systems)
Crop and Soil Sciences

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Publication date: March 22, 2017
Revised: Feb. 2, 2022

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