THE COLOSTRUM COUNSEL - Use of Colostrum Replacement products as an alternative to reduce antibiotic treatment in pre-weaned dairy calves

Use of antibiotics in agriculture is an added cost to the producer and growing concern to consumers. Feeding a colostrum replacer product may reduce the need for antibiotic treatments in pre-weaned calves.

The increased concern of modern societies on the emergence of antibiotic-resistance bacteria has led to regulatory institutions to limit to a minimum the number of antibiotics that can be used in food producing animals for therapeutic and preventive treatment of infectious diseases. The sometimes unreasonable use of antimicrobials in beef and dairy operations could result in potential adverse effects on human health as the risk of transmission of resistant microorganisms to the human population could potentially increase [Silbergeld et al. 2008]. Prophylactic and methaphylactic administration of antibiotics to prevent disease in calves early after arrival to feedlots and dairy calf ranches is not uncommon. At the same time as overuse of antibiotics is evident in some situations, the discovery and development of new antimicrobials to treat old and novel infections in human and veterinary medicine has decreased in the last years. It is estimated that the antibiotic shortage increased around 283% during 2006 and 2010 [Stanton 2013; Borchardt and Rolston 2013].

To overcome the limited availability of antibiotics to treat food producing animals and at the same time the high morbidity and mortality rates observed in some cattle operations such as feedlots and dairy calf rearing farms, the development of alternatives to antibiotics such as antibacterial vaccines, immunomodulatory agents, and antimicrobial peptides (AMPs) have been proposed [Seal et al. 2013]. Maternal colostrum provides specific immunity to the newborn calf through immunoglobulins (IgG) that effectively protect against infectious microorganisms during the first weeks of life. In addition to IgG, maternal colostrum provides high concentrations of immunomodulatory factors (cytokines), antibacterial peptides (Lactoferrin), growth factors (EGF, IGF-1), and vitamins that enhance immune responses and exert antimicrobial functions in the young calf [Hagiwara et al. 2000; Yamanaka et al. 2003]. Colostrum intake in newborn calves should occur immediately after birth because the ability of the calf intestine to absorb IgG decreases progressively after 6 hours of life. Calves with adequate passive transfer of IgG during the first 24 hours of life demonstrate lower morbidity and mortality rates compared with calves with failure of passive transfer of IgG (FPT) [Berge et al. 2005]; however, the benefits of maternal colostrum components including immunoglobulins (IgG, IgA, IgM), immunomodulatory factors, vitamins, growth factors, and antimicrobial molecules could be prolonged during the pre-weaning period through continuous administration of maternal colostrum in the calf ration. Studies have demonstrated that although absorption of IgG after 24 hours of life does not occur in the calf, the effects of immunoglobulins and other immune factors present in colostrum provide local immunity in the gastrointestinal tract and might prevent infection caused by enteric viruses and bacteria [Snodgrass et al. 1982]. One study demonstrated that when 70 g of a dried colostrum-colostrum replacer product containing 10 g of IgG mixed in the milk replacer ration was administered twice daily from 1 to 14 days of age to dairy calves with partial or complete FPT, the number of days with diarrhea and the number of antibiotic treatments was significantly decreased when compared with a control group of calves with FPT that did not receive colostrum replacer supplement [Berge et al. 2009].

In a more recent trial at SCCL, we administered 150 g of a dried-colostrum-colostrum replacer mixed into the milk replacer twice daily from days 1 to 14 to Holstein calves in a calf ranch and compared the incidence of disease (diarrhea and pneumonia) and total number of antibiotic treatments with a control group of calves that did not receive colostrum replacer supplement in their ration. All calves used in this trial had adequate passive transfer of IgG at the start of the trial (IgG in serum > 10 g/L). The overall incidence of disease in calves supplemented with colostrum replacer was reduced by 40%; additionally, the number of antibiotic treatments in the group of calves that received colostrum replacer was reduced 4 times (Chamorro and Haines 2015, non-published data). It is possible that components present in the dried colostrum-colostrum replacer such as IgG, immune factors, vitamins, and other antimicrobial peptides such as Lactoferrin could have played a role increasing local and systemic immunity in calves receiving supplemental colostrum. The results of these studies suggest that colostrum supplementation of dairy calves during the first 2 weeks of life independently of passive transfer status reduces presentation of disease and minimizes prophylactic and therapeutic use of antibiotics before weaning. 



- Silbergeld EK, Graham J, Price LB. Industrial food animal production, antimicrobial resistance, and human health. Annu Rev Public Health. 2008;29:151-169.

- Stanton TB. A call for antibiotic alternatives research. Trends Microbiol. 2013;21(3):111-113

- Borchardt RA, Rolston KV. Antibiotic shortages: effective alternatives in the face of a growing problem. JAAPA. 2013; 26(2):13-18.

- Seal BS, Lillehoj HS, Donovan DM, Gay CG. Alternatives to antibiotics: a symposium on the challenges and solutions for animal production. See comment in PubMed Commons belowAnim Health Res Rev. 2013; 14(1):78-87

- Hagiwara K, Kataoka S, Yamanaka H, Kirisawa R, Iwai H. Detection of cytokines in bovine colostrum. Vet Immunol Immunopathol. 2000; 76(3-4):183-190.

- Yamanaka H, Hagiwara K, Kirisawa R, Iwai H. Proinflammatory cytokines in bovine colostrum potentiate the mitogenic response of peripheral blood mononuclear cells from newborn calves through IL-2 and CD25 expression. Microbiol Immunol. 2003; 47(6):461-468.

- Berge AC, Lindeque P, Moore DA, Sischo WM. A clinical trial evaluating prophylactic and therapeutic antibiotic use on health and performance of preweaned calves. J Dairy Sci. 2005; 88(6):2166-2177.

- Snodgrass DR, Stewart J, Taylor J, Krautil FL, Smith ML. Diarrhoea in dairy calves reduced by feeding colostrum from cows vaccinated with rotavirus. Res Vet Sci. 1982; 32(1):70-73.

- Berge AC, Besser TE, Moore DA, Sischo WM. Evaluation of the effects of oral colostrum supplementation during the first fourteen days on the health and performance of preweaned calves. J Dairy Sci. 2009; 92(1):286-295.

Manuel F. Chamorro
Manuel F. Chamorro
DVM, PhD, DACVIM - Technical Veterinary Consultant, SCCL and Assistant Professor of Livestock Medicine and Field Service, College of Veterinary Medicine, Kansas State University
United States
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