Calves fed maternal colostrum had significantly higher passive transfer of immunity than calves fed a colostrum replacer, according to a study in the August Journal of Dairy Science.

In 2003, University of Minnesota researchers began a study, which involved more than 450 calves on 12 commercial dairy farms in eastern Minnesota and western Wisconsin.

The study found that serum immunoglobulin G and serum total protein were significantly higher in calves fed an industry-recommended volume of maternal colostrum versus calves fed one dose of a plasma-derived colostrum replacer containing 125 grams of IgG. However, health and death loss of calves fed the replacement product were not statistically different than that of calves fed maternal colostrum. For more details, please see the table below.

Despite the unfavorable passive transfer results, colostrum replacers still have merit.

“Colostrum replacers represent a very useful tool in situations when adequate quantities of clean, high-quality maternal colostrum are not available,” says Sandra Godden, veterinarian at the University of Minnesota. New research-proven products and formulations have become available since the time of this study. “In fact, even the manufacturer of the product we used in this study has since changed their product to improve performance,” she adds.  

Regardless of the product you use, monitor the results by assessing passive transfer in the calves, Godden says.


Passive transfer and pre-weaning health of calves fed maternal colostrum or a colostrum replacer


                                                                               Maternal colostrum                               Colostrum replacer

Average serum IgG1                                                       14.8 mg/ml                                            5.8 mg/ml

Average serum total protein2                                         5.5 g/dl                                                  4.6 g/dl

Proportion with failure of passive transfer3                28 percent                                            93.1 percent

Proportion treated for illness                                        51.9 percent                                         59.6 percent**

Total days treated per calf                                             1.7 days                                                2 days**

Treatment cost per calf                                                  $10.84                                                  $11.88**

Proportion of calves that died                                      10 percent                                            12.4 percent**


1 Serum IgG greater than 10 mg/ml is the goal for successful passive transfer.

2 Serum total protein greater than 5 g/dl is the goal for successful passive transfer.

3 As defined by serum IgG less than 10 mg/ml and serum total protein less than 5 g/dl.

** Though numerically higher, it is not considered to be statistically different.

Source: August 2007 Journal of Dairy Science