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There's More to Colostrum Than Passive Immunity

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There's More to Colostrum Than Passive Immunity
By Nick White 19 days ago

Calves are born with no circulating antibodies, so before their immune system becomes fully functional, they are totally reliant on the antibodies, particularly IgG, and other immune factors present in good quality colostrum. These should reflect the pathogen profile of the local farm environment together with antibodies resulting from the maternal vaccination.

However as more research is done on the effects and composition of colostrum, we are getting a greater understanding of the wide range of beneficial effects that this complex fluid has on the calf.

An immediate and easily metabolised energy source is a vital requirement for a calf immediately after birth. Thermoregulation, standing and feeding are energy intensive. Without an available supply, the calf’s natural activity will be hindered, and development of organs and physiological systems delayed. Maternal colostrum has almost twice the fat content of normal milk and is a major source of this all important energy for the new-born calf.

These fat levels have an additional role in neonatal nutrition. They allow higher levels of transport of the important fat soluble vitamins, Retinol, ß Carotene and α-Tocopherol. Calves receiving maternal colostral fat have been shown to obtain higher serum levels of these vitamins compared with calves receiving a colostrum supplement or replacer using an alternative fat source. Further studies show that insufficient colostrum intake can result in low ß Carotene and α-Tocopherol levels for weeks after birth.

In addition to fat and antibodies, maternal colostrum also contains other constituents to aid neonatal development.

Growth factors are hormone-like proteins that can have direct beneficial effects on organ development. In particular Insulin-like Growth Factors (IGF) act on specific receptors on intestinal cells leading to improved gut development. This in turn improves nutrition and productivity in the first weeks of life.

Components such as lactoferrin, lysozyme and lactoperoxidase can have a direct antimicrobial action aiding the protection against infection, as can active leucocytes (white blood cells) although the function of the latter is not fully understood.

This complexity of colostrum demonstrates why the quality is such a significant factor in giving the calf an effective start. Hopefully the cow will be producing a sufficient volume, rich in all the important constituents and with a high antibody content. It’s also critical that the calf is able to suckle quickly after birth.

However, on farm, situations are not always ideal. Some cows can produce lower quality colostrum that will not be adequate for the calf. This can be seen in heifers and certain breeds. A short dry period can also affect quality, as can the condition and nutritional status of the mother.

IgG levels can vary widely, and it’s considered that levels below 50mg/ml are inadequate, so it’s important to access the level of each individual batch. A Colostrometer measures the specific gravity of the colostrum and is calibrated to indicate the level of antibodies. This can provide a useful estimate, but a Brix refractometer can provide a more accurate measure, with good colostrum scoring over 22%.

Nettex Calf Colostrum Range

The calf’s ability to absorb antibodies reduces quickly after birth. It’s therefore critical that it receives sufficient colostrum, at least 3L, as soon after birth as possible. Ideally within two hours but at least within 6 hours. If the calf is not able to stand and feed from the mother, then feeding via a teat, or stomach tube for calves not sucking well can be used to ensure this critical time is not missed.

It is because the mother can’t always provide good quality colostrum, or it can’t be collected and fed immediately after birth, that colostrum replacers and supplements play an important part in new-born calf management. If a supply is kept on farm, it is immediately available to use at any time of day or night if there are concerns the calf can’t get enough good-quality colostrum from its mother.

This year, Nettex has launched a new and improved range Calf Colostrum, providing a choice of products to suit every farm’s situation. All contain full-fat maternal colostrum, sourced exclusively from high-health status, TB-free, UK herds, meaning it is complementary to UK farm environments.

The raw colostrum is frozen at source and then dried using a unique process preserving all of the components of natural colostrum. This produces a unique, high quality colostrum product that is high in protein, colostral fat and growth factors, as well as being tested for both safety and efficiency.

NEW Nettex Calf Colostrum Gold: This is colostrum the way nature intended. It is 1100% UK full-fat colostrum, retaining all of its natural constituents. Nettex Colostrum Gold is safe, effective, convenient and is available to use when you need it, at any time of night or day.

New Nettex Double Strength: This is a concentrated high protein, full-fat colostrum supplement with added vitamins, minerals and trace elements to give calves a strong start. Ideal for herds where calf development is key.

Nettex Calf Colostrum: This is an easy-to-use colostrum supplement that gives reliable support whenever needed. It is ideal for keeping on hand so quick and effective supplementation can be implemented straight away.


Nick White

Nick White

Senior Product Manager- Animal Health

m: 07788 728118