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Caring for Calves Colossal Colostrum Clout
Three Ways to Increase IgG and Give Your Calves a Rockin’ Start!
 By Amanda Kerr,
Senior Nutritionist, Grober Nutrition
As calf research continues to progress, we are better able to intervene at key moments to positively alter a calf’s outcome. For instance, we know that testing maternal colostrum with a refractometer gives us the ability to ensure the calf will receive enough immunoglobulins in the first meal to reduce their risk for morbidity and mortality. With new research, we have a better understanding of other factors and management strategies that can be used to keep a calf on target:
1. Fine tuning what defines successful passive transfer and failure of passive transfer in calves
2. Benefits of multiple colostrum feedings in the first days of life
3.Implications of heat stress during gestation
It isn’t about passing or failing anymore
By increasing calf serum IgG concentration, the risk for morbidity and mortality decreases. A new study (Lombard, 2020) is suggesting a graded system for evaluating transfer of passive immunity in calves. Calf illness continues to be a significant challenge, and one that has long lasting implications into future performance.
Category Serum IgG, g/L
Poor <10.0 Fair 10-17.9 Good 18.0-24.9 Excellent ≥25.0
Maximizing calf serum IgG content is one way to naturally prevent or lessen the severity of common calf diseases. This is summarized in the below table (adapted from Lombard, 2020).
Previously, a serum level of 10 g/L of IgG or more was considered a “pass.” However, a calf with “fair” passive transfer status is still nearly 8% more likely to experience illness than a calf with “excellent” transfer of passive immunity.
Is it just the first feeding that is important?
The timing of the first meal is critical, but so is feeding colostrum beyond the first 24 hours of life. When comparing the Apparent Efficiency of Absorption (AEA) of colostrum fed at six versus 12 hours after birth, the AEA drops from nearly 52% down to 35% (Fischer, 2018). Likewise, delaying the first meal of colostrum out to six or more hours has a negative impact on the number of beneficial bacteria in a calf’s gut.
Feeding colostrum, or transition milk, beyond the first days has positive impacts on the early structural development of a calf’s small intestine (Pyo, 2020). Don’t forget, a calf is born with minimal fat reserves, so extendingthesupplyofenergyandnutrient dense colostrum/transition milk, will have further benefit to the calf. With nearly 70% of the immune system located in the gut,
it is critical to provide colostrum early to promote the proliferation of healthy bacteria and maintain feeding colostrum/transition milk for a few days after birth to stimulate crucial early gut development.
Transfer of passive immunity is hindered by heat
Under heat stress conditions during late gestation, a number of negative effects are imparted on the calf. Perhaps the earliest and most significant challenge is the reduction in a calf’s ability to absorb immunoglobulins (IgG) from colostrum. It is unclear what the exact mechanism is behind this, but there are two clear examples showing how significant this problem is. Both Tao (2012) and Laporta (2017) showed that calves born to heat-stressed cows (no additional cooling measures provided during late gestation) had lower serum IgG concentration at 24 hours, demonstrating their reduced ability to absorb IgG.
Apparent Efficiency of Absorption
What management strategies can be used to overcome this challenge?
1.Providing additional cooling measures
(extra fans, sprinklers) in the dry cow pen, as this will have benefits beyond improving effectiveness of colostral IgG absorption by the calf.
2. Testing all maternal colostrum and increasing the target Brix value to compensate for reduced absorption efficiency.
3. Freezing high value colostrum (e.g. 28%+ Brix) for use during summer months.
4. Supplementing maternal colostrum with a colostrum replacer to increase and standardize IgG content for all calves.
5. Above all, always remember that equipment used to collect and feed colostrum must be clean, as microbial contamination will further hinder the calf’s ability to absorb IgG.
       (AEA) of IgG in Calves Born to Heat Stressed or Cooled Cows
    % Morbidity
46.1 36.1 34.8 28.5
% Mortality
7.4 3.8 1.5 2.5
AEA is a function of colostral IgG content, the amount fed, the size of calf (blood volume), and the end serum IgG result. As a practical example, if a 40Kg calf was born to a cooled cow (AEA 33.6%, Tao 2012) and fed 4L of 22% Brix colostrum, the theoretical serum IgG level would be 24.3 g/L of IgG. However, if the same calf was born to a heat- stressed cow (12.3% AEA, Laporta 2017), the theoretical serum IgG would then be 8.9 g/L of IgG, which would represent failure of passive immune transfer.
TAO (2012) Laporta (2017)
Born to a Cooled Cow
Born to a Heat Stressed Cow
Born to a Cooled Cow
Born to a Heat Stressed Cow
19.2% 14.4% less efficient
12.3% 7.7% less efficient
  As antibiotic use and sustainability come into greater focus on dairies, utilizing the incredibly complex power of colostrum and IgG to strengthen calves and improve performance makes great sense. Utilize the strategies and product mentioned above to give your calves a measurable health advantage!
(References available upon request.)
______L extra saleable milk ______kg’s increased growth ______% average daily gain ______% less mortality
Want the numbers? Talk to your DairyCrop team today:
Gerry DeGroot 604.819.4139 Jelle Vogels 604.997.0059 Evan Davidson 604.991.6708
Nutrition for your farm built on leading research, supported by quality, and crafted from passion.
 1.800.265.7863 | |

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