Early colostrum is no guarantee for good immunisation of calves

The level of IgG in the blood of new-born calves varies, both between calves that have received colostrum manually from heated, pre-frozen colostrum and between calves that have received their first colostrum from the dam.

2017.11.15 | Mari Reiten and Jan Tind Sørensen, Institute of Animal Science, AU

New research in the Organic RDD 2.2-project ‘ViOrCa’ shows that the calf’s absorption of the immunoglobulin ‘IgG’ depends on more than the quality of colostrum and time of feeding after birth.

In an experiment conducted in six organic dairy herds, new-born calves were divided into two groups. One group was fed colostrum manually from the colostrum bank as soon as possible after birth (bank-group), where the amount ingested and the quality of the colostrum was controlled. The other group only received colostrum from their mothers (cow-group).

All calves in the experiment were together with the dam for 24 hours after birth, according to law. To be able to compare colostrum quality given to calves between the colostrum sorted in the bank and the colostrum from the dams (not sorted), the Brix-value of the colostrum from the cows, which calves did not get colostrum from the bank, was measured. The overall Brix-value was slightly higher for the colostrum given from the bank with an average of 23.0 g/L (bank-group) compared to 22.1 g/L for the cow-group. However, the variation in colostrum quality was high in both groups, ranging from 16-32 g/L and 14-39 g/L, respectively.

A blood sample was obtained from the calves when they were between one and seven days old. In table 1, one can see the level of IgG in the blood of calves (from the bank-group) that have ingested different amounts of colostrum, and that have ingested the first colostrum at different time-intervals after birth. The average IgG-level for calves fed from the colostrum bank was higher for calves that ingested more than 2 L of colostrum. There seems to be no correlation between time from birth to first colostrum-feeding and IgG-level in the blood.

Colostrum feeding

Average IgG level (mg/ml)

Amount colostrum ingested


≤ 1 litre


1-2 litre


2-3 litre


3-4 litre




Time from birth to first colostrum


0-1 hour


2-4 hours


>4 hours


Table 1: The table shows IgG level in the blood of calves that have ingested different amounts of colostrum and at different points in time after birth (140 calves).

Figure 1 shows the calves’ IgG-level in the blood and the Brix-level of their first colostrum. There is no clear relationship between the Brix-level of the colostrum and the IgG-level in the blood, neither for calves in the bank-group nor for calves in the cow-group.

Our results are confirmed by research from the US, which shows that the calf’s ability to absorb IgG varies between individuals that have received the same colostrum ‘treatments’ (Halleran et al., 2017), and that high-quality colostrum is no guarantee of good immunisation.

Mortality for the calves (included in the project) was low (2.5%) compared to 8.1% on the national level. 

Figure 1: Distribution of IgG-levels for calves that have received colostrum of different quality.


Halleran, J., Sylvester, H. J., Foster, D. M. 2017. Short communication: Apparent efficiency of colostral immunoglobulin G absorption in Holstein heifers. J. Dairy Sci. 100: 3282-3286.

The project ’Viable Organic Calves’ (ViOrCa) is a part of the Organic RDD 2- programme, which is coordinated by ICROFS (International Centre for Research in Organic Food Systems). It has received grants from ’Grønt Udviklings- og Demonstrationsprogram (GUDP)’ under the Ministry of Environment and Food of Denmark.

Visit the project website of ViOrCa



Agriculture and food
Tags: ViOrCa, Organic RDD 2.2, GUDP, ICROFS