Colostrum Management: What you Need to Know

Published on Wed, 02/10/2021 - 10:34am

Colostrum Management: What you Need to Know.

 By Dr. John Chalstrom, Ph.D.

 Managing a colostrum program is perhaps the most important step in reducing disease in neonatal calves on a farm. This is the message that Stacy Dill, Global Marketing Director for PanTheryx APS La Belle would like to share with producers.

Although maternal colostrum is the optimal choice for delivering immunoglobulins needed to sustain life, there are times when maternal colostrum is of insufficient quality, particularly when it is the first birth by a heifer. This presents many challenges to the producer as it is not known how much high-quality colostrum is consumed by the calf and therefore, they many not receive adequate passive transfer of immunity. Unlike a human who is born with some degree of natural immunity, calves are dependent upon colostrum to develop such a defensive shield. Therefore, it is imperative that producers utilize high quality, maternally derived colostrum supplements and replacers particularly on farms that have poor colostrum quality, limited reserves, and to break the cycle of transmission of infectious diseases.

Colostrum contains immunoglobulins which are critical in providing a calf with immunity from infectious diseases. Antibodies cannot cross the placental wall and pass directly from the dam to the fetus. The calf receives immunity by consuming adequate amounts of colostrum within the first few hours after birth. Two feedings during the first day of good-quality colostrum is considered sufficient to provide passive immunity. It is recommended that 10-12 percent of bodyweight in colostrum is given at first feeding.

During the first twenty-four hours after birth, a calf can absorb antibodies directly from the gut into the bloodstream without digesting them prior to the gut wall closing. Once this happens, they lose the capacity to absorb essential antibodies from colostrum necessary for immunity. This type of protection, to calve via colostrum, is called “passive immunity.” Passive immunity helps to protect a calf until its own immune system becomes fully functional.

Since a calf is born with minimal or no resistance to disease, the intake and absorption of colostral immunoglobulins are essential to the health of the newborn calf. The newborn calf is devoid of circulating antibodies and thus, relies on those acquired from colostrum for protection against disease. Significant amounts of antibodies obtained from good quality colostrum are transferred across the small intestine and into the blood during the first few hours of life developing positive immunity. Antibodies entering the blood are further distributed to various parts of the animal’s body. The absorbed antibodies protect invasion by pathogens while those antibodies that are not absorbed play an important role in protection against intestinal disease.

 Not all colostrum supplements and replacers are formulated the same, so it’s important for producers to read the whole product label to see what additional benefits are gained by the additional ingredients. For example La Belle colostrum veterinary series (Colostrum Plus and First Colostrum) contain the E Coli antibodies needed to aid in the prevention of death associated with Escherichia coli K99. This antibody also aids in diarrhea control to help prevent scours by blocking the K-99 E. Coli from producing bacteria.

A well-managed colostrum program is reliant on the use of supplements and replacers. Colostrum supplements are designed to provide exogenous IgG to calves to supplement poor quality maternal colostrum and to promote healthy growth into adulthood. The supplement is used during the first few weeks of life in order to maintain optimum health. Yet feeding one dose of a colostrum supplement will not provide a sufficient mass of IgG to prevent failure of passive transfer in young calves or the sufficient level of nutrients necessary for calf survival or growth.

Replacer products are designed to be fed instead of maternal colostrum. They should provide a minimum of 100 g of IgG per dose which should provide sufficient levels of nutrients to a calf. All calves should receive a replacer within the first few hours of life. Feeding at least 100 g of IgG with a second feeding bringing the total dose to 150=200 g is recommended to ensure that enough IgG is available to the calf. Feeding colostrum late or not at all are primary causes of failure of passive transfer of immunity resulting in an increased risk of disease or death.

The advantage of using supplements and replacers is simply the fact that maternal colostrum of poor quality can present serious health threats to new calves. If not collected and properly stored, contamination can occur in procured colostrum. Also, colostrum can represent early exposures to infectious agents including Mycobacterium axiom spp. Paratuberculossis. Other pathogens that are concerning from raw colostrum include Mycoplasma spp., Esherichia coli, and Salmonella spp. Bacteria in colostrum may also interfere with the passive absorption of antibodies into the calf’s circulation. La Belle’s thermally treated colostrum supplements and replacers can guarantee industry standards of quality and safety.

Assessing maternal colostrum is vital in a management program. A colostrometer or %Brix using a refractometer is used to estimate the concentration of IgG in colostrum. Both tools are designed to prevent failure of passive transfer by ensuring that the colostrum fed is of high quality. Measuring the concentration of total protein or %Brix of serum will provide an indication of whether the colostrum management program is successfully providing adequate IgG to calves. This is done using a refractometer. Blood samples are collected from the jugular vein using a serum separator which can be obtained from a veterinarian. The blood should be refrigerated for a few hours after collection to allow clotting to occur. Prior to measuring the total protein or %Brix, be sure that the refractometer is calibrated. To measure the serum of the refractometer surface, close the lid and look through the eyepiece.

Research has demonstrated that the quality and composition of colostrum on dairy farms in the United States is inadequate. In fact, almost 60% of maternal colostrum on farms is lacking resulting in a large number of calves being at risk for the failure of passive transfer, bacterial infections, or both. Calves that experience failure of passive transfer are more likely to become sick or die in the first two months of life than those with adequate immunity. Calves with inadequate immunoglobulin concentrations also have reduced growth rates, increased risk of disease, risk of being culled, and decreased milk production in first lactation. By comparison, calves with adequate transfer of immunity have lower mortality and morbidity and fewer antibiotic treatments compared with animals with failure of passive transfer. For three decades, La Belle colostrum has proven efficacy that demonstrated the prevention of failure of passive transfer.

According to Dill, the use of a colostrum management program increases efficiency. “Calves are born when they want to be born. Stored colostrum may not have sufficient levels. A producer may be inadvertently transferring bacteria.” Furthermore, “When a calf is born, many environmental factors may be present. It might be night or inclement weather, a dam doesn’t want to deal with a calf, or stored colostrum may be frozen. Using replacers which are easy to mix and administer increases the chances of a healthy calf.” Also, “La Belle colostrum has a long shelf life if it is stored properly and at 3 in the morning when a problem pops up you are prepared to quickly deliver the colostrum, this also means you could possibly avoid a costly trip to the clinic.”

Since 1984, La Belle colostrum has saved millions of animal’s lives from pathogenic and environmental threats. Colostrum products are developed out of a thorough understanding of scientific evidence and industry factors surrounding the lack of passive transfer immunity, exposure to disease, standards for immunoglobulin absorption, recommended colostrum feeding in the first few hours, and in colostrum management practices. La Belle’s 35 years in the marketplace gives producers the confidence they need when selecting products for their animal’s health. La Belle was the first in the animal market to be awarded a dual claim by the USDA-CVB by aiding in the treatment of failure of passive transfer of immunity and the prevention of death associated with Escherichia coli K99.