The Effect of Colostrum Administration Practices on Serum IgG Concentrations in Tube Fed Holstein Bull Calves
ACVIM 2008
Munashe Chigerwe, BVSc, DACVIM
Columbia, MO, USA

Introduction

Several studies have described the importance of the ingestion and absorption of colostral immunoglobulins on the morbidity, mortality, growth and future productivity of dairy calves.1-6 Calves with inadequate passive transfer of colostral immunoglobulins have increased risk for mortality in the first 3 months of life.5,6 Additionally, decreased rate of gain,2 lower milk production3 and decreased first lactation survival3 have been reported in calves with failure of passive transfer of colostral immunoglobulins. Failure of passive transfer of colostral immunoglobulins (FPT) is responsible for approximately one-half of calf death losses on US dairy farms.7

Colostrum administration practices which affect serum immunoglobulin concentration in calves include the timing of colostrum administration,8,9 the volume of colostrum fed, the method of administration,4 timing of colostral collection,10 colostral IgG concentration11 and dam parity.11,12 Previous reports have recommended that calves ingest at least 100 g of colostral IgG for adequate passive transfer of colostral immunoglobulins.4,13,14 However, this goal was based upon anecdotal or clinical observations rather than controlled studies.

Lower failure of passive transfer rates have been reported in calves fed colostrum by oroesophageal tube, relative to bottle fed calves or calves allowed to nurse from their dams.4 Administration of 3 to 4 L of colostrum by oroesophageal tube has been recommended to ensure sufficient IgG mass is delievered.4 Despite the accumulated understanding of the factors which affect passive transfer and the recognized importance of passive transfer of colostral immunoglobulins in dairy calves, approximately 35-40% of US dairy calves have inadequate passive transfer of colostral immunoglobulins.5,15 Based on this observed high prevalence of failure of passive transfer of colostral immunoglobulins in calves, we hypothesized that current recommendations regarding colostrum feeding practices are inadequate. Thus, either the total immunoglobulin mass being fed to the calves is inadequate or colostrum administration practices require more concerted effort than most farmers perform. The first objective of this study was to determine the amount of colostral IgG required for adequate passive transfer of colostral immunoglobulins in calves fed colostrum by oroesophageal tubing. The second objective was to evaluate the impact of calf age at time of colostrum administration, volume of colostrum administered, colostrum IgG concentration, dam parity, colostrum weight produced by the dam, calf weight and their interactions on transfer of colostral immunoglobulins in dairy calves.

Materials and Methods and Data Analysis

One-hundred-twenty (120) Holstein bull calves resulting from observed calvings were drawn from the University of Missouri Foremost Teaching and Research Dairy. After parturition, calves were immediately separated from their dams, weighed and identified. Only calves whose births were observed were included in the study. Cows were milked within 2 hours after parturition using a portable milking machine. The calves were randomly assigned without replacement to specific combinations of treatments (age of calf at feeding colostrum and volume of colostrum administered). Equal numbers of calves received 1, 2 ,3 or 4 liters of their dam's colostrum and equal numbers of calves received colostrum at 2, 6, 10, 14, 18 or 22 hours of age. A single feeding of colostrum was administered once by oroesophageal intubation. Thereafter, all calves were fed 2 L of a commercial milk replacer every 12 hrs. Samples were stored at -20°C until processed for serum immunoglobulin determinations. Colostral and total serum IgG concentrations were determined using adaptations of a previously reported radial immunodiffusion (RID) techniques.12,16

Mean colostral IgG concentrations (g/L) and standard error of mean for cows in their first, second, third or greater lactation were calculated. Mean ± standard error of mean for calf weight and colostral volume produced by the dam also were calculated. The cut point defining adequacy of passive transfer was 48 hour serum IgG concentrations >1340 mg/dl based on previous studies.5,6,17 The effects of calf age at time of colostrum administration, volume of colostrum administered, colostrum IgG concentration, dam parity, colostrum weight produced by the dam, and calf weight on calf serum IgG concentration at 48 hrs of age were determined using a stepwise multiple regression model. A logistic regression model predicting the probability of a calf having failure of passive transfer at 48 hours of age was developed as function of calf weight, calf age at time of colostrum administration, volume of colostrum fed, dam parity, calving assistance, colostral weight produced by the dam and colostral IgG concentration.

Results

Forty-four, 33 and 43 calves from 1st, 2nd and >3rd lactation cows respectively were enrolled into the study. The mean ± standard error of mean for colostral IgG concentration for all cows, 1st, 2nd and >3rd lactation cows were 67.2 ± 2.8, 68.1 ± 2.7, 65.0 ± 3.0 and 68.0 ± 2.7 g/L respectively. Mean ± standard error of mean for colostral weight produced by the dam and calf weight were 8.8 ± 0.5 kg and 40.9 ± 0.6 kg, respectively. Mean ± standard error for serum IgG (mg/dl) concentration was 1136 ± 50.8.

Dam parity, calf birth weight, colostral weight produced by the dam and whether a calving was assisted were not significantly associated with serum IgG concentration. Interactions between colostral IgG concentration and volume of colostrum fed, age of calf at time of feeding and volume of colostrum fed were not significant independent variables of 48-hour serum IgG concentration. Colostral IgG concentration and volume of colostrum fed to the calf were positively correlated to the 48-hour serum IgG concentration. Age of calf at time of feeding was negatively correlated to the 48-hour serum IgG concentration. Using the results of the multiple regression models, the average total colostral IgG concentration required to achieve a serum IgG concentration of 1340 mg/dl was calculated for possible permutations of volume of colostrum fed and calf age at time of colostrum administration is represented in Table 1.

Table 1. Average of total mass of colostral IgG (g) required for adequate passive transfer when fed at various ages after calving in 120 bull calves.

Age of calf
at feeding
(hours)

Feeding 1 L
colostrum

Feeding 2 L
colostrum

Feeding 3 L
colostrum

Feeding 4 L
colostrum

2

150

140

123

171

6

164

168

164

226

10

178

196

206

282

14

192

223

248

337

18

206

251

289

392

22

220

279

331

448

Summary of probabilities of a calf having failure of passive transfer as a function of different predictors for 48-hour serum IgG concentration is represented in Table 2. Dam parity, calf weight, whether calving was assisted, colostral weight produced by the dam were not significant predictors of 48-hour serum IgG concentration. Interactions between colostral IgG concentration and volume of colostrum fed, age of calf at time of feeding and volume of colostrum fed were not significant independent variables of 48-hour serum IgG concentration.

Table 2. Probabilities of a calf fed colostrum by tubing having failure of passive transfer of colostral IgG (serum IgG concentration <1340 mg/dl) as a function of colostral IgG concentration, volume of colostrum fed and time of colostrum administration in 120 dairy bull calves.

Volume of
colostrum fed (L)

 

Colostral IgG concentration (g/L)

25

50

75

100

125

1 L

2 h

0.95

0.90

0.81

0.68

0.51

6 h

0.97

0.94

0.88

0.78

0.63

10 h

0.99

0.96

0.92

0.84

0.73

14 h

0.99

0.97

0.94

0.89

0.80

18 h

0.99

0.98

0.96

0.93

0.86

22 h

0.99

0.99

0.97

0.95

0.90

2, 3 or 4 L

2 h

0.29

0.17

0.09

0.05

0.02

6 h

0.39

0.24

0.14

0.07

0.03

10 h

0.50

0.33

0.19

0.11

0.06

14 h

0.60

0.43

0.27

0.15

0.08

18 h

0.70

0.53

0.36

0.22

0.12

22 h

0.78

0.63

0.46

0.30

0.17

Discussion and Conclusions

The threshold value for serum IgG concentrations defining failure of passive transfer in dairy calves varies among studies and reports. Serum IgG concentrations of <1000 mg/dl have been reported as an indication of failure of passive transfer colostral immunoglobulins.4,17 Mortality was increased in calves with serum IgG concentrations of <1200 mg/dl2 and < 1500 mg/dl18 in other studies. Calves with serum IgG concentrations of <1200 mg/dl have been reported to have a 2-times higher odds of pneumonia compared to calves with serum IgG concentration >1200 mg/dl.6 Another report has suggested a serum IgG concentration of >1600 mg/dl indicates adequate passive transfer of colostral immunoglobulins.19 A field based study which examined mortality in 3, 479 dairy replacement heifers showed that calves with serum protein concentration > 5.0 and < 5.5 g/dl experienced a 1.3 relative risk of mortality compared to calves with serum protein > 5.5 g/dl (equivalent to serum IgG concentration of 1340 mg/dl).5 On the basis of this study, a serum IgG concentration of 1340 mg/dl was chosen as the threshold which would define optimal passive transfer of colostral immunoglobulins. This cutpoint, although appropriate to guarantee optimal calf health is probably an excessive rigorous goal for most commercial dairies. On these farms FPT rates as high as 10 % probably are indicative of good colostrum administration practices and lower FPT rates are probably unreasonable and unattainable goals. Hence, less rigorous cutpoints, 5.2 g/dl serum total protein or 1000 mg/dl IgG are probably appropriate for routine monitoring.

It should be noted that the results of this study are only applicable to calves which are fed colostrum once by oroesophageal tubing between 2 and 22 hours of age. Smaller amounts of IgG may be adequate if calves receive a second colostral feeding early in life. Substantially larger IgG intakes are required by calves fed colostrum at ages greater than 2 hours. For calves fed at 6 hours of age, the required mean IgG intake varies from 164 to 226 g. For calves fed at 12 hours of age, the required mean IgG intake varies from 185 to 309 g. The results of this study suggests that on average, a minimum of 123 g of colostral IgG is required for adequate passive transfer when calves are fed 3 L of colostrum by tube feeding at 2 hours of age. This report contradicts previous reports which recommended that calves should receive > 100 g of colostral IgG for adequate transfer of colostral immunoglobulins. It should be noted that multiple regression models in this study only predicted the mean colostral IgG required for adequate passive transfer of colostral immunoglobulins. Thus we anticipate that half of the calves fed 123 g of colostral IgG at 2 hours of age will have failure of passive transfer and half of the calves will have adequate passive transfer of colostral immunoglobulins. Previous studies have recommended feeding 3 to 4 L of colostrum by orosephageal tubing.4 In the present study feeding of 4 L once was not beneficial compared to feeding of 3 L once based on the required colostral IgG concentration to achieve adequate passive transfer (Table 1). Previous studies reported no significant increase in serum IgG concentrations at 24 or 48 hours of age when 4 L of low IgG concentration colostrum was fed within 3 hours compared to those calves fed 2 L.20

Results of the logistic regression showed no differences in the probability of a calf having failure of passive of passive transfer of colostral immunoglobulins when fed 2, 3 or 4 L at a given age of the calf at feeding, and IgG concentration of colostral IgG fed Table 2. A possible explanation for the observed is the difference in the measured endpoints; serum IgG concentration in the multiple regression models (continuous dependent variable) compared to binomial (adequate or inadequate serum IgG concentrations) in the logistic regression. The results indicate the importance of the volume of colostrum fed. For instance feeding 1 L of colostrum with a colostral IgG of 100 g /L at 2 hours of age results in a FPT probability 0.68 while feeding 2 L of colostrum with a colostral IgG concentration of 50 g/L results in an FPT probability of 0.17.

Only bull calves were enrolled in the study since the study design was anticipated to create a substantial risk for FPT, and consequently, increased morbidity and mortality. In the present study calf birth weight did not influence serum IgG concentrations at 24 or 48 hours consistent with previous studies.2,8,21 Assisted calving did not have an effect on serum IgG concentrations at 48 hours of age in this study. Previous studies showed no significant differences in colostral IgG concentration between cows in their first or second lactation.11,12 However, cows in their third or greater lactation had significantly higher colostral IgG concentration. In this study there was no significant difference in the mean colostral IgG concentration in the 1st, 2nd and >3rd lactation cows and parity was not a significant predictor of 48 hour serum IgG concentrations in calves. Thus the quality of colostrum with regards to the concentrations of IgG from first parity cows was equivalent to older cows' colostrum. Discarding colostrum from first lactation cows because of perceived lower IgG concentration is strongly discouraged. However it should be noted that conclusions on the differences in colostral IgG concentration due dam parity are based on studies performed on a single herd. Geographical and nutritional factors may potentially influence colostral IgG concentration.

The endpoints chosen for defining adequacy of passive transfer presented in this study are for optimal colostral transfer of colostral immunoglobulins. The reported average number of hours at which calves receive colostrum on all dairy operations in the US was 3.3 hours.22 Thus, on most dairy farms in the US, a minimum of 137 g (106, 167; 95 % CI) of IgG, on average is required for adequate passive transfer when calves are fed 3 L. Since ingestion of 123 g will achieve adequate passive transfer in 50 % of the calves, the findings in this study suggest a minimum of 153 g (upper confidence interval limit for feeding 3 L at 2 hours of age) of colostral IgG is required for adequate passive transfer. In summary, 100 g of colostral IgG is inadequate for adequate passive transfer of colostral immunoglobulins. At least 150 to 200 g of colostral IgG is required for adequate passive transfer of colostral immunoglobulins. We recommend that tube fed calves should receive 3 L of colostrum within 2 hours of after birth.

References

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Speaker Information
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Munashe Chigerwe, BVSc, DACVIM
University of Missouri-Columbia, CVM
Columbia, MO


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