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© 1990, The Board of Regents of the University of Nebraska on behalf of the University of Nebraska–Lincoln Extension. All rights reserved.


This NebGuide explains the importance of early feeding of high quality colostrum to the newborn calf.

The intake and absorption of colostral immunoglobulins, which include antibodies against disease, are essential to the health of the newborn calf. The newborn calf is virtually devoid of circulating antibodies and thus relies on antibodies acquired from colostrum for protection against common disease-causing organisms (pathogens). Significant amounts of the antibodies obtained from good quality colostrum, if fed early enough, are transferred across the small intestine and into the blood during the first few hours of life (passive transfer). Antibodies entering the blood are further distributed to various parts of the animal's body. The absorbed antibodies protect against systemic invasion by pathogens while antibodies that are not absorbed play an important role in protection against intestinal disease.

During absorption, the proportion of antibodies entering the blood depends on the colostral quality (total concentration of antibodies), and the volume that actually reaches the calf's intestine during the early hours of life.