Failure of Passive Transfer in Calves

by Emma Cuttance – VetEnt

What is Failure of Passive Transfer (FPT) and why is it relevant to my herd?

  • Calves are born with very low immunity and need colostrum to absorb antibodies (immune molecules) across their guts into their bloodstreams.
  • FPT leads to more calf disease and death.
  • A third of calves in NZ have FPT and the range on farms is 5%-80%.
  • FPT may also cause poor milk production and poor reproductive performance when FPT heifers reach the herd.
  • Rearing healthy calves is important; they are the future of your herd.

When is a calf more likely to get FPT?

  • FPT is the result of poor colostrum feeding; not quickly enough, not good enough quality, not enough volume.
  • Older cows are more likely to have calves with FPT.
  • There is more FPT during the peak of calving.
  • South Island has a higher prevalence of FPT.
  • Weak, sick calves at pick up are more likely to have FPT.
  • Herds over 400 are more likely to have a higher prevalence of FPT.

Colostrum testing

  • Colostrum is the first milking colostrum. Everything else until the cow goes into the vat is transition milk.
  • Know the quality of your colostrum.
  • Bacterial contamination and low immunoglobulin G (IgG) concentrations lead to poor quality colostrum and calves with low immunity.
  • The method of giving colostrum is only as good as the quality of colostrum given.
  • Estimate the IgG concentration in your colostrum using a BRIX refractometer (over 22% is good quality).
  • Reduce bacterial contamination of colostrum by careful cleaning of storage and feeding equipment.

Preserving colostrum quality

Take home tips

  • Colostrum goes off!
  • If you wouldn’t drink it don’t feed it to your calves!
  • Store colostrum in a lidded drum and stir it regularly.
  • Keep it cool – refrigerated if possible at 4⁰C.
  • Use an approved preservative like potassium sorbate (1%) to preserve IgG concentration and prevent bacterial proliferation.

Timing and volume of colostrum feeding

When you know you are feeding good quality colostrum, the next things to consider are when to feed it and how much to feed.

Take home tips

  • Feed 10-15% of the calf’s bodyweight in colostrum within the first 6-12 hours of life – this is the ‘Golden Period’. For a 40 kg calf this is 4-6 litres of colostrum.
  • Limited calf stomach (abomasal) capacity means you will need to split this into at least 2 separate feeds.
  • After 24 hours the calf’s gut starts to ‘close off’ and will not absorb any more IgG molecules.
  • Colostrum is still an excellent feed after 24 hours of age.

Tubing colostrum

Take home tips

  • Know what you are tubing with! Tubing is only as good as what you are tubing with so get your colostrum quality right.
  • Tubing can take the ‘guesswork’ out of knowing how much colostrum a calf has had and is useful for sick calves that won’t drink.
  • Gentle tubing is essential.
  • Potential problems with ‘oesophageal groove closure’ when tubing calves may mean that colostrum pools in the rumen causing bloat.

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