The antibodies in colostrum support immune function, but there is evidence that other components in “liquid gold” also deserve recognition for their role in long-term performance.  

“We are beginning to believe there’s a lot more to that first meal than IgG,” says Mike Van Amburgh, associate professor in the Department of Animal Science at Cornell University. “There are things in colostrum other than immunoglobulins that are important for the calf and help the calf do things other than develop the immune system.”

During a recent Dairy Calf & Heifer Association Webinar, Van Amburgh shared examples of non-IgG components and their influence on future animal performance. One example involves the hormone relaxin.

“We know that in pigs relaxin is vitally important in that first meal to help stimulate uterine development in a female pig,” Van Amburgh said. “The more relaxin that pig receives in that first meal, the greater her reproductive efficiency in later life.

“We have struggled with reproductive efficiency in our high-producing cows,” Van Amburgh said. “With this kind of information in pigs, it makes me wonder (if this is) something that we’ve missed (in calves).”

Several research studies show that early-life nutrition – particularly a calf’s colostrum status – affects her lifetime productivity. A prominent example of this is a University of Arizona study in which Brown Swiss calves were fed either 4 quarts or 2 quarts of colostrum at birth. The calves fed 4 quarts went on to produce 2,263 pounds more milk by the end of their second lactation.

“Colostrum is the foundation for functional change,” Van Amburgh said.

Treat it as the calf’s most important meal, not only for its immune system benefits, but also for its role in future performance.

More to colostrum than IgGAccording to Dairy Calf & Heifer Association Gold Standards, the first feeding of colostrum should be offered in the first four hours of life and should equal 10 percent of the calf’s body weight. So, for example, a 90-pound Holstein calf should receive 4 quarts of colostrum within the first four hours of life. Please see the Gold Standards I for more guidelines about colostrum quality.