Using the Right Colostrum Products

Published on Sun, 01/08/2023 - 10:46am

Using the Right Colostrum Products.

 Article and photos courtesy of SCCL.

 As the cold weather sets in, so does the realization that calving season is right around the corner. Now is the time to start preparing your calving kit, and one of the most essential items to include is a colostrum supplement or replacer.

What is colostrum?
Calves are born without any immunity to protect them against pathogens. These pathogens can cause diseases like E. coli or salmonella, and can lead to diarrhea scours, dehydration and mortality. To avoid this, calves must consume adequate amounts of high-quality colostrum in a timely matter. Prior to calving, cows generate antibody-dense milk known as colostrum through a process called colostrogenesis. In an ideal setting, a calf will stand and nurse adequate colostrum from its dam to achieve successful passive transfer of immunity. However, first-calf heifers or cows with poor nutrition can have lower quality colostrum or deficient volume for their calves to achieve this rate.

Passive transfer of immunity is defined as a serum total immunoglobulin (IgG) concentration of 10 g/L. This transfer of immunity is limited to 24 hours, and as soon as the calf is born, its ability to absorb IgGs begins to decline. With that in mind, colostrum fed within the first six hours of life is most efficient in transferring immunity. Because of this narrow window of opportunity, there may not be ample time to run to the local vet clinic or farm store to purchase an alternative colostrum solution. In these instances, it is important to have colostrum products already on hand.

What should I look for in a product?
There are several factors to consider when stocking up on colostrum products for calving season. First, not all colostrum products are made from actual colostrum, which means those derived from alternative sources do not provide the same immunity as maternal colostrum. Serum- or blood-based products, still contain IgG; however, when compared to colostrum, their antibodies are not as effectively absorbed into the blood stream and do not reach the same passive transfer levels in the blood.

As confirmed by the study conducted by Jon Ellis, Ph.D. and DVM from the University of Saskatchewan, the absorption of IgG from the colostrum-based product (>40%) was significantly greater than the plasma-based product (25%). Also, the results proved the average rate of IgG in the blood was less than 10 g/L, which is categorized as failure of passive transfer of immunity. Calves fed the colostrum-based product achieved above 15 g/L, successfully reaching passive transfer of immunity. Additionally, colostrum contains higher proportions of IgG1, the specific immunoglobulin that recirculates back into the lungs. This means colostrum-based products protect the lungs against viruses like bovine respiratory syncytial virus (BRSV) pneumonia, whereas serum-based products only protect the local intestinal tract.

Since bovine colostrum is a popular ingredient in not only other livestock products, but also in human nutritional products, several colostrum manufacturers will fractionate out the IgGs from the colostrum and sell the rest of the solution to be used in different products. However, colostral fat, the energy source naturally found in maternal colostrum, is essential for newborn calves. Colostral fat provides a long-term energy source for calves to shiver to stay warm in cold, snowy pastures. Colostral fat is also concentrated with oligosaccharides, which serve as prebiotics to establish and fertilize healthy bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract.

Alternative fat sources like mineral oil, cocoanut oil or vegetable oil, do not provide this same benefit, so it is important to always check the label to see if colostrum is being substituted for something of lesser nutritional value.

When should I use a colostrum replacer or supplement?
Most colostrum products are considered supplements or replacers based on the level of IgG. Most products in the supplement category contain 50-100g IgG, and most replacers range from 100-200g IgG. Any product can be used to either supplement or replace maternal colostrum based on the amount fed. For instance, two bags of a 60g IgG product can be considered a replacement dose, because it equates to 120g IgG. The minimum dose needed to replace maternal colostrum can vary per calf based on factors like birthweight, environmental challenges like cold weather, or difficulty calving. New standards suggest feeding at least 100g IgG for adequate replacement and 200g IgG for excellent replacement. Studies have shown calves receiving excellent replacement doses have less morbidity, so they are generally healthier and easier to manage.  

Mike Nagorske, DVM and Director of Research at SCCL, has established recommendations for supplementing or replacing colostrum for beef calves. “Always first allow the dam to bond with her calf,” Nagorske said. “After that, if the calf has not stood and vigorously nursed within the first two hours, you should start with a supplement,” he added. In about six hours, if the calf is still not up to nurse, give another supplemental feeding to total a replacement amount. Calves born as twins, or in cold, muddy conditions, should initially be given a replacement dose. Nagorske explains calves born with major difficulty, c-section or an abnormal presentation time have significantly reduced ability to absorb antibodies and should be fed an excellent replacement dose of at least 200g IgG.

Regardless of the situation, colostrum is essential for newborn health and survivability. Being prepared with the right products and having them on hand to use quickly, might be the difference in having a live,  healthy calf or a dead one.

Bottle Feeding vs. Tube Feeding
Although tube feeding is the preferred method to feed colostrum in most calving settings, it is important to understand the absorption differences in these two methods. When feeding smaller amounts of colostrum (less than 3L), the suckling action from bottle feeding helps the solution empty from the abomasum into the intestinal tract to be absorbed more effectively. However, studies show that at higher volumes (greater than 3L) there is no significant difference in IgG absorption between colostrum fed through an esophageal tube feeder or a bottle. In all instances where a calf refuses to suckle a bottle, rather than allowing more time to pass, tube-feed the colostrum, so the calf does not miss its opportunity to absorb antibodies with in the first 24 hours.