Intake of colostrum after birth is very important, it is lifesaving! Colostrum provides essential immunoglobulins, protects against clostridium bacteria (that may cause diarrhoea and intestinal infections), and other pathogens (depending on the vaccination status of the ewe). Next to these antibodies, colostrum contains sugars and easily digestible proteins that serve as first energy sources, and many other ‘life cells’ of which the exact function is not fully clear yet2.
Functions of colostrum: Stimulates gut function – source of energy – source of antibodies
In the first 24 to 36 hours after birth, large protein molecules and antibodies pass the gut wall (Figure 1)3. That is why it is so important to provide colostrum in the first day of life, and especially in the first hours after birth. The ability to absorb antibodies soon disappears when the lamb gets older, and is lost completely after 36 hours. In this phase, colostrum is still nutritious, and offers some kind of protection at the intestinal level. The antibodies, however, will not be absorbed into the bloodstream after 36 hours. It is therefore important to administer the first colostrum as soon as possible after birth, within six hours. This is essential, because the gut wall permeability decreases fast thereafter.
Figure 1: Gut wall permeability. In the first 24 to 36 hours, the intestinal wall is permeable for antibodies from colostrum (top), after that, the gut wall closes (bottom).
Reported ideal amounts of colostrum for a new-born lamb vary between 180 to 290 mL per kg liveweight4,5,6. The standard is that the lamb should get at least 15 to 20% of its bodyweight in the first 24 hours. Next to the quantity of colostrum, also the quality is important. Colostrum quality is determined by the amount of immunoglobulins (IgG) it contains. A lamb needs approximately 8 grams of IgG (about 2 grams per kg bodyweight) within six hours after birth. It is demonstrated that the absorption capacity of the intestinal wall remains relatively stable over the first six hours after birth7.
Lightweight lambs and triplets often do not consume sufficient amounts of colostrum on the first day, e.g., because the colostrum production of the ewe lags behind. A good alternative is providing Colostrum Mix. Next to vitamins and trace elements – that help the immune status -, also yeasts have been added to support a healthy intestinal microbiota development.