Current Progressive Dairy digital edition

New Technology: Flip the ‘on’ switch in calves with bioactive supplement

PD Editor Walt Cooley Published on 20 November 2013


Everyone knows it’s urgent to feed the immunoglobulins in colostrum to calves their first 24 hours alive, but new research shows the non-nutrient contents, or bioactives, in colostrum are also significant.



Even as researchers study exactly how these bioactives work in the calf, a new product on the market this fall claims to capture their benefits in calf feeding.

AgriLabs recently introduced StressMate, a proprietary blend of small proteins and nutrients processed from bovine colostrum.

The company recommends feeding the product as soon as possible after birth, followed by two additional doses administered just prior to the next two feedings.

One of the company’s technical service veterinarians, Jennifer Trout, says the low-molecular weight proteins in the product stimulates systems in the calf to get the calf up and running early in life.

“I liken it to a engine modification chip you might put in your pick-up truck so it can go faster and you can get more horsepower,” Trout says. “That’s what this does to the calf. A 3-day-old calf will act like a 10-day-old calf.”


Sterling Technology in Brookings, South Dakota, produces the product. It buys bovine colostrum from producers in Minnesota, Idaho, Texas and California, extracts the bioactives and condenses them into the product sold under the AgriLabs label.

Sterling developed the technology used to create the calf product through its experience processing colostrum for human consumption in Asian markets.

“With this product, we are right on the forefront and cutting edge in research for our industry,” Trout says.

She refers to ongoing studies from Michael Ballou of Texas Tech University and Mike Van Amburgh of Cornell University. Their research seeks to determine how previously overlooked components of colostrum may affect the calf’s immune system and nutrient uptake in the calf.

“For years, we’ve been focused on immunoglobulins. The reality is that they are necessary, but there are a lot of other things in colostrum that we really haven’t focused on,” Van Amburgh said during the new product’s launch and a guest presentation at American Association of Bovine Practitioners Annual Conference this past September.

“Colostrum provides immunoglobulins for establishing passive immunity. What we’ve also now begun to understand, and start to appreciate, is that colostrum contains non-nutrient factors that support gut maturation.”


Those factors include IGF-1, prolactin, insulin, leptin, relaxin, lactoferrin, cortisol and others. Just like IgGs, the concentration of these factors in colostrum is much more than that found in milk.

For example, colostrum contains 310 times more insulin than milk, which Van Amburgh believes may be responsible for aiding in the small intestine mucosa growth of calves.

“In other words, [a cow] spent an enormous amount of time building this calf and still wants to communicate to the calf. The easiest way for her to do that is to actually put signals and factors into the milk that actually help stimulate, alter and support the metabolism of the calf,” Van Amburgh says.

1713pd_newtechnology_1 “We’ve really underestimated the power of that.”

Dairies in California, Texas, Pennsylvania, Washington and Wisconsin have used the product prior to this fall’s commercial launch.

Jacqueline Rapp, a veterinarian from Paxinos, Pennsylvania, was one of the product’s early users.

She says she tested the product within several calf groups she consults.

“The calves all respond with big eyes; their ears are erect and they’re willing to drink,” Rapp says.

Rapp gave 10 mL of the product orally 10 minutes before feeding 3 quarts of colostrum, then again six hours later prior to feeding another 3 quarts of colostrum, and then again 12 hours later prior to feeding 2 quarts of milk. The total cost for the three doses was $7.

“It’s turning on the immune system and stimulating the brain,” Rapp says. “They are just plain hungry.”

Rapp emphasizes the product is not a replacement for good-quality colostrum feeding, clean and dry bedding or good management practices. But she says when it’s added to a producer’s regime that has all those things, it eliminates “hiccups” in calf-rearing.

“It’s keeping calves on schedule moving through development stages,” Rapp says. Many of her clients who tried the product are now faced with heifer housing challenges due to lower morbidity and mortality rates among calves.

She can point to specific farms that had disease challenges from cryptosporidium or mycoplasma prior to using the product, and once the newborn calves were fed it and then came into the challenged stage of development, they didn’t run into the same problems.

The toughest sell for adding the protocol’s cost, she says, is to a farm that doesn’t have many calf health challenges already.

“I tell them that the money spent in those first seven days is money well spent,” Rapp says.

For example, Rapp is anxious to see how the use of the product affects the lifetime growth of one particular farm’s heifers. On that particular dairy, heifers have reached breeding height and weight by 13 months old but haven’t been conceiving at first service the way Rapp believes they should.

“If we could just get more of them bred the first cycle, that would save 21 days of feed cost,” Rapp says.

Rapp believes feeding the product to newborns will improve growth rates and the quality of the heifer’s ovaries so that conception rates will improve at first service.

Van Amburgh is optimistic about the prospect of proving colostrum bioactives, such as some of those in AgriLabs’ new product, improve efficiency throughout the animal’s life.

“We’re just at the beginning of understanding how all of these [bioactives] work together to communicate to the calf,” Van Amburgh says. “We think that it is changing growth, feed efficiency and milk production later in life.

We think after you set these things up early in life and send these signals that all through the rest of the life of that calf, they are going to be more efficient and better producers.” PD

Veterinarian Jacqueline Rapp of Paxinos, Pennsylvania, was one of the first clients to trial AgriLabs’ new concentrated bioactives calf product. Photo courtesy of AgriLabs.


Walt Cooley
Progressive Dairyman

The following checklist can be used to determine if this new technology might be a fit for your operation.

1. Would you like to improve the lifetime growth and development of your heifers?

2. Have you ever heard of non-nutritive bioactives in colostrum?

3. Do you feed adequate levels of high-quality colostrum to newborn calves?

4. Do you believe colostrum feeding is more important than just to prevent failure of passive transfer?

5. Do you wish it was easier to feed newborn calves colostrum?

6. Do you want your calves to look more healthy and alert after feeding?

7. Do you do all the right things in your calf program but still have an occasional health challenge or “hiccup” later in the calf’s life?

If you answered yes to five or more of these questions, this technology may be one for you to consider.