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Five reasons why immediate immunity is important

Bobbi (Kunde) Brockmann Published on 19 January 2012


This article was #25 of the Top 25 most well-read articles on in 2012. to jump to the article. It was published in the January 23, 2012 Extra. Click here for the full list of the Top 25.



ImmuCell’s calf specialist Bobbi Brockmann listed the top reasons why immediate immunity is important. Brockmann wrote, “Studies show that calves with inadequate serum IgG concentrations at 24 hours old are 3.2 to 9.5 times more likely to become sick and 5.4 times more likely to die before weaning.”

Because this article was so popular, we asked Brockmann:

Q. The article stated that USDA-approved antibody products can help provide immediate immunity. When producers are deciding which antibody product to incorporate into their calf program, what factors should they consider?

Antibody products are the only tools to provide your calves’ immediate immunity after birth. As a calf tries to stand for the first time the outcome is a wobbly nose-dive into the pasture or maternity pen, often resulting in a mouthful of disease antigens within minutes after birth. Diseases don’t wait for the calf to develop their immune system, so you can’t either.

Antibody products can be derived from bovine colostrum and milk proteins, blood proteins from equine, bovine or porcine sources and dried egg proteins. There are four important considerations when choosing which product is best for your calf program.


1. Antibody specificity
Does the product guarantee which antibodies are present? If this is not the case, you may not be feeding the appropriate antibodies at the critical time. E. coli and coronavirus are often the first diseases that impact calves. Giving products with these specific antibodies, immediately after birth, will provide protection. This keeps calves’ immune systems from getting depleted so they’ll be better able to fight off diseases they’re exposed to later in life.

2. Antibody concentration
Is the specific antibody concentrated enough to fight disease? Putting a salt shakers amount of coronavirus antibody, for example, in a product just so it can be labeled as containing antibodies against coronavirus doesn’t mean there are enough antibodies to protect against scours and death from that disease. Ensure the antibody product you’re choosing has the appropriate trials to prove the antibody level is consistent in every dose and proven effective. Look for claims against both morbidity and mortality, as these are most relevant to your profitability.

3. Antibody source
All antibodies, regardless of source, will work in the calf’s GI tract to bind and neutralize disease antigens. However, a second line of defense results when these antibodies are absorbed into the calf’s bloodstream. For calves, bovine sourced antibodies will absorb at the highest rate, providing more protection than equine, porcine or egg antibodies.

4. Quality control
Companies invest at different levels when it comes to product quality. Gold standard products have USDA approval requiring each batch produced to test negative for coliforms and salmonella. This involves an immense amount of quality assurance and traceability.

Products sold outside USDA’s jurisdiction are less regulated. Research indicates bacteria in the gut will reduce colostrum absorption and utilization by the calf. Excessive levels of infectious bacteria can cause illness. Be sure to choose products that guarantee total plate counts less than 100,000 cfu per gram, are negative for coliforms and salmonella and low in both endotoxins and mycotoxins.
—Bobbi Brockmann, ImmuCell



Calves are born with no immune system and rely on you and your employees to provide them protection from diseases. This protection is known as passive immunity and is provided through the form of antibodies.

Antibodies are obtained by drinking colostrum within the first couple of hours after birth. When the calf drinks colostrum, the antibodies move through the calf’s system into its gastrointestinal tract where they are absorbed into the bloodstream.

The absorption of antibodies from the gastrointestinal tract into the bloodstream is called passive transfer. To successfully obtain passive transfer, the calf needs to consume a minimum of 150 grams of immunoglobulins (often called IgGs or antibodies).

The pathway between the gastrointestinal tract and the bloodstream is only open for a very short window of time. This underscores why it is so important that calves receive at least four quarts of high-quality colostrum within the first six hours after birth.

Any delay in feeding colostrum puts your calf’s health at risk. Research also confirms that the sooner a calf consumes colostrum, the more maternal antibodies it can utilize.

In addition to colostrum, scours vaccines and antibody products are available to help you enhance the immune system and improve protection of your calves.

The downside to scours vaccines is that, in order for them to be effective, there must be a lag time from when the vaccine is administered and when colostrum is fed.

This delay is necessary because if the vaccine was administered at the same time as colostrum, the maternal antibodies in the colostrum would neutralize the vaccine rendering it useless in providing immunity.

Immunity obtained through scours vaccines is also not immediate, as the baby calf must respond to the vaccine to develop antibodies and this takes time. Current research shows that the process of the calf mounting an immune response can be detrimental to the early health of that calf, as it requires energy that could better be used to fight off disease and gain weight.

Regardless, delaying colostrum feeding is inherently a bad idea since consumption of maternal antibodies immediately after birth is the most important step to obtain passive immunity. A delay in colostrum feeding for a vaccination regimen can put the calf at serious risk.

USDA-approved antibody products, however, provide immediate immunity. They do not require the calf to react to a vaccine in order to develop antibodies. Rather the antibodies are already present, measured and verified to be at a high enough level to protect the calf from scours-related diseases and are available immediately to the calf.

Antibody products also complement colostrum feeding because they can be fed as close to birth as possible or at the same time as colostrum. These products are available in bolus, gel and powder form. They are also included in some colostrum replacer formulas for added value. In addition, providing the calf antibodies in a concentrated form allows for specific protection against E. coli and coronavirus.

No matter which newborn calf health program you currently use, you should be concerned about protecting your calf. Here’s a look at why providing immediate immunity is so important.

1. Calves are exposed to scour-causing bacteria almost immediately, even before they are strong enough to stand . As any calf raiser or maternity pen manager knows, shortly after the calf is born it tries to stand and typically takes a nose dive into the floor of the calving pen, getting a mouthful of unwanted bad bugs. The calf’s immune system is not prepared to fight these pathogens on its own.

2. Providing immediate immunity to calves helps them achieve adequate passive transfer . Studies show that calves with inadequate serum IgG concentrations at 24 hours old are 3.2 to 9.5 times more likely to become sick and 5.4 times more likely to die before weaning.

3. Win the race against time . As soon as the calf is born it is a race to get antibodies into the bloodstream to protect the calf. The openings in the calf’s intestinal lining are time-sensitive.

You want to get E. coli and coronavirus antibodies in the bloodstream through these pathways before E. coli and coronavirus pathogens. Both have equal opportunity to get through the calf’s gastrointestinal tract into the bloodstream.

4. Prepare calves to fight off additional diseases . Colostrum provides a general mass of antibodies important for immunity. Adding specific antibodies to help the calf fend off particular diseases such as E. coli and coronavirus will enhance its immunity.

Furthermore, when a calf’s immune system is not depleted due to challenges with early calf hood scours it is better able to fight off secondary diseases like crypto and respiratory challenges.

5. A baby calf with a higher immune status makes for a better lactating cow . Research shows that calves with a higher immune status will have less scours, enter the milking string sooner and produce more milk, including a higher fat and protein content. PD

Calves are exposed to scour-causing bacteria almost immediately, even before they are strong enough to stand. Photo courtesy of ImmuCell.


Bobbi (Kunde) Brockman
Calf specialist, Director of sales and marketing
ImmuCell Corporation