It doesn’t seem to matter to a newborn calf — or at least to her immune system — if she receives vigorous stimulation by humans or none at all following birth.
According to research reported in the March 2011 issue of the Journal of Dairy Science, “artificial mothering,” or verbal and physical stimulation by humans, had “no significant effect” on passive transfer of immunoglobulins (IgG) in newborn calves.
During the study, newborn heifer calves, delivered without dystocia, were assigned to one of two treatment groups: no verbal or physical stimulation (other than that required for feeding) or artificial mothering, which consisted of 15 minutes of vigorous physical and verbal stimulation at the time of first colostrum feeding and again one to two hours later. All calves were tube fed 2.25 liters (150 grams of IgG) of a commercially available colostrum replacement product.
Blood serum samples showed that IgG levels and efficiency of IgG absorption were no different between the two treatment groups at 24 hours of age.
Previous research shows that there can be significant variation in passive transfer, even in calves that receive an early feeding of colostrum containing high levels of IgG. Why this happens is not well understood, say the study’s authors. So, too, is the role that mothering behavior plays on passive transfer, which is the driving factor behind this study.
The researchers fed a commercial colostrum replacer to maintain consistency in the amount and quality of IgG fed to the calves. Guidelines about colostrum management can be found in the Dairy Calf & Heifer Association’s Gold Standards I.