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Is colostrum inactivating your scours prevention program?

Bobbi Brockmann Published on 24 November 2014
new born calf

It could be argued that newborn calf care protocols are more important than anything else you do on the farm. The future of your herd stands on four wobbly little legs and looks to you to help get it off to the right start.

From that first feeding of colostrum to scours prevention, navel dipping and more, newborn calves should be managed to a “T.” But did you know a sound colostrum management program may be impacting your newborn scours vaccination program?



Newborn calf scour vaccinations are a complex topic and have been a tool farms have looked to when providing additional immune protection for calves. But some research questions the ability of a calf to be vaccinated effectively while it has maternal antibodies from colostrum circulating in its system.

Maternal antibodies absorbed from colostrum cannot distinguish between the antigens of a natural challenge and the antigens in a vaccine, meaning colostral antibodies can interfere with the protection intended by that vaccine.

To avoid vaccine inactivation by colostrum, some scours vaccines on the market suggest delaying colostrum delivery for 30 to 60 minutes. This delay is required so the maternal antibodies in the colostrum don’t neutralize the vaccine, rendering it useless.

What complicates this issue even further is all of the information out there telling us how important immediate colostrum feeding is for calf health. This forced colostrum delay is not only inconsistent with good colostrum management, it leaves a calf unprotected while you wait for the newborn calf to respond to the vaccine by developing antibodies, a process that takes up to two weeks.

Time is of the essence
The pathway between the calf’s gastrointestinal tract and the bloodstream is only open for a short window of time, and that’s why it’s so important to deliver maternal-derived antibodies as soon as possible after birth.


At just 12 hours old, a calf may have already lost approximately 50 percent of its ability to absorb colostrum antibodies. This short time period underscores why it is so important that calves receive at least 4 quarts of high-quality colostrum within the first six hours after birth. Waiting to deliver antibodies to a calf via colostrum because your vaccine program requires it ticks against the immune clock.

A delay in colostrum feeding for a vaccination regimen can put a newborn calf at serious risk. At the same time, you don’t want to waste the dollars invested in scours vaccine by inactivating it with colostrum feeding. So what’s a producer to do?

Vaccine stimulation
Research shows that the process of a calf mounting an immune response to a vaccine requires energy that may be better used to fight off disease and gain weight, especially at this critical point in the calf’s life where it barely has enough energy to regulate its own body temperature. Using up energy reserves to respond to a vaccine could actually be detrimental to the early health of a newborn calf.

Any immune system response can be challenging to the animal, according to research done by Dr. Mark Cook at the University of Wisconsin. Mounting a response can actually be more harmful to the animal than no vaccination at all if specific immunity is not needed or can be achieved in a more passive and direct means.

Cook’s research shows that when an immune response is effectively achieved, muscle tissues demand more amino acids to create immunity. These are the same amino acids that could otherwise be used by the muscle tissue to grow and strengthen the calf’s overall health rather than responding to the vaccination. Cook believes in finding ways to limit immune response and avoiding unnecessary vaccinations at birth.

Providing immediate protection
Unlike vaccinations, antibody supplements do not require a calf to mount a response to develop antibodies. Antibodies are present, measured and verified to be at a high enough level to protect the calf from scours-related diseases, and they can be fed as close to birth as possible.


USDA-approved antibody supplements can be fed in conjunction with colostrum and are a solution that provides immediate immune protection for your calves.

Antibody supplements complement colostrum feeding as they can be fed at the same time as colostrum and are available in bolus, gel and powder forms. For added value, some supplements are included in colostrum replacers and supplement formulas.

These supplements not only assist in achieving adequate passive transfer, but they also provide enough specific antibodies to protect against the most common early calfhood diseases. Studies show if a calf does not achieve an adequate serum IgG concentration at 24 hours old, it is up to 9.5 times more likely to become sick and 5.4 times more likely to die before weaning.

Modifying the program
Take a hard look at your newborn calf care protocols. Investing in a newborn scours vaccine that could be inactivated if colostrum feeding is not delayed may not be the most economical decision for your operation.

On the flip side, delaying colostrum feeding for any reason is risky and leaves your calf unprotected. Use of an antibody supplement that can assist the calf in achieving adequate passive transfer is an alternative that doesn’t break the bank or leave calf health on the line.

Use of an antibody supplement means you don’t have to rely on a vaccine-stimulated response by a calf’s already-stressed immune system. And it means the calf can conserve its valuable and minimal supply of fat and nutrients that are critical to get that calf through its first few days of life.

Work closely with your veterinarian to develop a program that delivers immediate protection for your calves in a way that also reduces labor, risk and even subsequent treatment costs. While vaccination programs can help, a calf is born vulnerable and needs immunity support as soon as possible. PD

PHOTO: Newborn calf scour vaccinations are a complex topic and have been a tool farms have looked to when providing additional immune protection for calves. But sound colostrum management strategies may be impacting your scours vaccination program. Photo courtesy of ImmuCell .

Bobbi Brockmann
  • Bobbi Brockmann

  • Director of Sales and Marketing
  • ImmuCell
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Four considerations for your colostrum program

  1. Quality and quantity are key. A calf should consume at least 4 quarts of a high-quality colostrum to receive adequate immune protection.
  2. Timing is everything. Calves start to lose the ability to absorb antibodies at 6 hours old and generally can no longer absorb them at 24 hours. Any delay in consumption puts a calf’s health in jeopardy.
  3. Colostrum does not guarantee protection. Calves fed colostrum are not guaranteed to be scour-free. Colostrum provides a general mass of antibodies.
  4. For specific antibody protection against the first enteric diseases calves are exposed to, consider a USDA-approved antibody product that can be administered at the same time as colostrum.

Consult a veterinarian or animal health specialist to develop a colostrum management plan that works for your operation. The future of your herd is in your hands.