Bint Al Bahr Arabians

Preservation Breeders of Straight Babson Egyptians


Colostrum - Banking on the Future

       by  Bruce Johnson    1993

Published in The Pasha Chronicle  -  Spring 1993  


Early in March of this year the Sheykh Obeyd breeder network helped a fellow breeder and potentially saved the life of a young foal. Julie Pagliaro of Las Vegas , Nevada became alarmed when one of her mares approached her foaling time with no udder development. Julie made contacts with sources who could ship some colostrum from the East Coast but the shipment was delayed by a late winter storm.

Fellow Sheykh Obeyd advocates Julia Byfield and Janis Keeling referred Julie to Diana Johnson of Buckeye, Arizona.  Diana did have some colostrum banked and was able to ship it to Las Vegas to arrive the following day. The colostrum was available when the foal was born.

The story described above had a happy ending. Sometimes the search for colostrum becomes a frantic, frenzied affair with the mare owner obtaining colostrum of uncertain quality . Therefore, there are a few facts about building your own colostrum bank for use in future years. The following facts are taken from Breeding Management & Foal Development (Equine Research 1982) and an interview with Dr. Lloyd Kloppe, DVM of Buckeye Arizona . Dr. Kloppe is a Diplomat of the American College of Theriogenologists which in English means an Equine Reproduction Specialist.  


The mare should be moved to the foaling farm approximately 2 months prior to foaling. This allows the mare's immune system time to build up antibodies to the specific environment's organisms naturally. This is why colostrum collected on your own farm is the best quality available for your horses.

A four in one booster shot (Tetanus, Flu, Encephalomyelitis) should be given to the mare to stimulate production of antibodies against those disease organisms. This booster shot should be given one month to six weeks prior to the expected foaling date.  

Several small vials or specimen test tubes that can be securely capped should be procured from your veterinarian. Several quart sized freezer bags that can be securely fastened to prevent leakage should also be obtained from your local supermarket.  


 The foal only has a window of the first 12-24 hours of its life in which the colostrum can be effectively absorbed. However, this window is permanently closed when any other product passes through the digestive tract. This includes the mare's milk or goat's milk. Therefore, it is vital to ensure the foal gets colostrum first. If a mare has leaked or squirted milk for many hours before foaling, the colostrum could be lost and the window closed forever once the foal nurses on his dam.  

In the case where blood tests reveal that the foal has received only a marginal or less amount of colostrum, all is not hopeless. Many veterinarians will be able to provide a blood plasma transfer for the foal to raise its level of antibodies. However, the plasma transfer is expensive and places additional stress on the foal (not to mention the foal's owner!). (Editor note: An excellent article titled" Foal Immunity: A Round Table Report" appeared in the November/December 1992 of Modern Horse Breeding.)  


When the mare starts to rapidly drip milk, the udder area should be cleaned with a wet warm washcloth (or equivalent) before milking. The colostrum should be milked into a clean container that can be immediately and securely capped to prevent spillage or appropriation by the barn cat or dog.  

For most mares, about 8 ounces of colostrum can be collected before the foal nurses without significantly depleting the mare's supply for the foal.  

NOTE: Developing a colostrum bank is not breed- dependent. You can collect colostrum from a cooperative neighbor's Quarter Horse mare even several hours after foaling. Just make sure that the colostrum is evaluated by a veterinarian so you know the quality of the colostrum that you have banked.  


The colostrum should be mixed together and a small sample placed in a test tube or other small container that can be securely capped. The remainder can then be poured into a plastic freezer bag, with the self-sealing feature to prevent spillage. The bag goes into the freezer lying on the large flat surface and the vial or test tube will go to your veterinarian for testing.  


Testing of colostrum is accomplished by two methods. One is an evaluation of the colostrum's specific gravity by your veterinarian utilizing a modified hydrometer (Equine Colostrometer).  The other is by evaluating the test results from the foal's blood sample taken by your veterinarian during the initial foaling checkup. This second method provides the foal's individual absorption into the results (i.e., a foal whose test is low may have received high quality colostrum but not enough to be fully effective). IgG test results of 800 mg/ dl are generally considered adequate.

The color of the colostrum does not provide a positive identification on whether the sample is good or not; only the specific gravity test will indicate valid results. A value of 1.060 indicates good levels of antibodies in the colostrum.  Samples with specific gravity between 1.060 and 1.040 will contain some antibodies.  

Because mares produce differing amounts and quality of colostrum, the testing results are merely general guidelines as to how effective the colostrum will be. The IgG blood test should be performed on ALL foals even when you have provided high quality colostrum.  


Colostrum can be stored effectively from anywhere between 2 and 5 years depending on factors such as the original quality, proper collection, the storage unit and any chance of accidental defrost due to power outages, etc.  Some decrease in quality is to be expected as time passes.

The best refrigerator to store colostrum in is one that does not contain the timesaving feature of being "Frost-Free". This refrigerator performs a cyclical defrost, refreezing technique to inhibit the buildup of frost in the freezer. However, the constant defrost-refreeze reduced the quality of the colostrum.  


Colostrum should never be defrosted in a Microwave oven!!! The microwaves destroy the special properties of the colostrum rendering it ineffective. Use warm water to slowly defrost the frozen colostrum and bring it up to the mare's temperature.    

The colostrum can then be put into a a baby's milk bottle and then given to the foal.  One method to get the colostrum into the foal is to do it away from the dam. However, this does not help the foal discover where its future meals are coming. We have always placed the bottle next to the mare's udder and have a helper guide the foal in that general direction. By ensuring that the bottle is the first thing the foal encounters, the colostrum will be the first liquid absorbed as well as the foal learning the proper location for future nourishment.

A 110 pound foal would need about 1.0 to 1.5 liters of colostrum with a specific gravity of > 1.060 to achieve an IgG concentration of > 800 mg/ dl. Feeding should begin within 2 hours of birth with about 200 mI. (approximately 7 oz.) of colostrum consumed at each feeding. The foal should be fed this amount of colostrum every hour.  


As stated earlier, Colostrum is best when it is collected and used on the same farm. The antibodies that are contained in the colostrums represent the best weapons for the organisms of the surrounding environment.  

However, it is sometimes necessary to ship colostrum in cases like the scenario described in the opening paragraph. In these instances, there are some precautions that can be taken to ensure that the colostrum arrives in a useful condition when it arrives at its destination.  

In the scenario described above, the frozen colostrum was packed in a small Styrofoam container that was filled with dry ice obtained at a local grocery store. This container was then packed inside another Styrofoam container that was packed with newspaper and multiple "blue ice" packages. The outside Styrofoam container was secured with ample amounts of tape and then addressed appropriately. (Note: many labels DO NOT stick to Styrofoam -Diana used permanent ink marker written directly on the outside of the container to print the necessary information.) It is highly recommended to place the destination's phone number and "Perishable" prominently on the outside.  

Obviously, speed is of the essence in getting the colostrum to the destination. The package should be shipped NEXT DAY AIR through either the Post Office, UPS or Federal Express.  

In the case described above, even though the package was delivered 24 hours later, the colostrum was still frozen with a significant amount of dry ice remaining.  A reminder, this event occurred in the month of March and did not have to fight high Spring or Summer temperatures.  

In summary , each of us can benefit from starting our own colostrum banks to help our future foals.  A colostrum bank is just like insurance, you may never need it, but is sure is nice to have it if you do!  


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