Colostrum's key components

Colostrum: an important source of antibodies and immunological components5 essential elements

As the LifeStart Program recommends, proper colostrum management, along with the timely feeding of colostrum, should be a priority. Having a good colostrum feeding protocol, that keeps both high quality and proper quantity in mind, ensures the future production of dairy herds.

Colostrum is not only an important source of antibodies for newborn calves, but it also contains many other important immunological components that are necessary for calves' immune systems to develop properly.

1. Antibodies

  • As calves are born with minimal antibodies, colostrum provides an immediate source of vital antibodies.
  • Calves fed colostrum shortly after birth have significant concentrations of serum immunoglobulin during the first 3 days of life, whereas colostrum-deprived calves only have trace amounts.
  • Proper collection and storage of colostrum is an important step in keeping it free of microbial contaminants.

2. Cytokines

  • These immunological hormones help the development of immune responses.
  • High levels of 2 anti-inflammatory cytokines, IL-4 and transforming growth factor beta-1 (TGF-beta1), suppress local secretion of pro-inflammatory cytokines in the intestine, allowing gut microbial colonization, and keeping the gut from becoming 'leaky'.
  • Calves with 'leaky gut' are much more susceptible to salmonella and other gut pathogens.

3. Cells

  • Only fresh colostrum contains viable cells; freezing, pasteurization, or poor handling unfortunately destroys these cells.
  • Calves fed colostrum containing live leukocyte cells develop faster and better immune responses than those receiving colostrum without viable cells.
  • Calves fed colostrum containing maternal leukocyte cells develop antigen presenting cells (APC) faster. APCs are key cells for developing an acquired immune response to pathogens or vaccines.

4. Growth factors

  • These include: insulin growth factors (IGF), epidermal growth factors (EGF), relaxin, leptin, and prolactin.
  • IGFs are essential for cell growth and differentiation in the gut.
  • EGFs prevent bacterial invasion, stimulate gut growth by increasing cell differentiation, and stimulate mucus secretion.
  • Leptin aids neonatal intestinal maturation and may also affect energy and glucose metabolism.

5. Non-specific anti-microbial factors

  • These include: lactoferrin, lactoperoxidase, and lysozyme.
  • Lactoferrin binds iron, and prevents the growth of a wide range of bacteria. It also activates phagocytic (or protective) cells in the intestine.
  • Lactoperoxidase inhibits bacterial metabolism of a wide range of microorganisms.
  • Lysozyme affects the cell wall of gram-positive bacteria (which are more receptive to antibiotics)

Learn more about the value of colostrum