Tube Feeding Did Not Reduce IgG Absoption from Colostrum in Penn State Study

Posted: December 19, 2011

A recent study at Penn State was designed to compare total serum protein and IgG concentrations and apparent efficiency of absorption (AEA) in Holstein heifer calves

Esophageal or “tube” feeders can be very helpful tools for providing calves with adequate amounts of colostrum as soon as possible after birth. Some farms use them as the primary method of feeding colostrum, while others tube only calves that fail to consume enough colostrum from a bottle. A recent study at Penn State was designed to compare total serum protein and IgG concentrations and apparent efficiency of absorption (AEA) in Holstein heifer calves when colostrum was fed by nipple bottle or esophageal feeder. Results of this study were published in the December 2011 issue of Professional Animal Scientist (Elizondo-Salazar et al.).

Table 1: "Description of treatments and blood parameters at 24 hours of age in calves fed colostrum by nipple bottle, esophageal feeder, or a combination of both"

Item Treatment 1
Treatment 3
Treatment 3
Treatment 4
Treatment 5
# of Calves
13 6 7 7 7  
Amount Fed, Qt.
Nipple Bottle
4 3 2 1 0  
Esophageal Feeder
0 1 2 3 4  
Total IgG, mg/ml
23.4 24.5 25.2 24.0 25.8 1.79
Total serum protein, g/dL
6.3 6.6 6.5 6.6
6.3 0.2
AEA, %1
35.3 34.6 35.0 31.8 35.2 2.87

1Apparent efficiency of absorption.

Forty calves were separated from their dams before nursing occurred and provided a single feeding of 4 quarts of colostrum within 2 hours of birth using a nipple bottle, an esophageal feeder, or a combination of both. The colostrum was a result of a large pooled batch and contained 75 g/L of IgG. As a result, all calves received a total dose of 285 grams of IgG from the same source colostrum. To reflect the various feeding protocols on farms, each calf was initially offered a nipple bottle and if the calf refused to nurse all or part of the 4 quarts, the remaining colostrum was fed by esophageal feeder. The amount fed by each method was controlled to establish 5 feeding method treatments: 4 quarts via nipple bottle; 3 quarts via nipple bottle and 1 quart by esophageal feeder; 2 quarts by nipple bottle and 2 quarts by esophageal feeder; 1 quart via bottle and 3 quarts by esophageal feeder; and 4 quarts via esophageal feeder. Approximately one-third of the calves in this study (32.5%) consumed a full gallon of colostrum from a nipple bottle. The remaining calves were evenly distributed among the other feeding method treatments.

No differences between feeding methods were detected in serum total protein, IgG, or AEA measured at 24 hours of age (see table), and calves on all treatments experienced successful passive transfer of immunity. Total serum protein averaged 6.4 ± 0.2 g/dL, total IgG 24.4 ± 1.8 mg/mL, and AEA 34.5 ± 2.9% (mean ± SEM). In this study where all calves received a large volume of high quality colostrum and colostrum volume and IgG mass were the same for all calves, feeding method had no effect on transfer of passive immunity.

Regardless of feeding method, the key factors affecting absorption of IgG from colostrum are the same. Increasing the mass fed and reducing the time between birth and first feeding increases the expected IgG concentration in serum of calves. As always, with colostrum feeding it is quantity, quality and timing; it takes all three parts to get good transfer of antibodies to the newborn calf.  Choosing to provide colostrum with an esophageal feeder may allow calf care personnel to consistently deliver a large quantity of IgG soon after birth. This study confirms that esophageal feeders can be used to administer up to 1 gallon of colostrum to newborn calves. In addition, calf feeders are commonly advised to use an esophageal feeder for calves that do not voluntarily consume a full dose of colostrum from a nipple bottle. Results of this study suggest that this practice will not compromise AEA or serum protein levels in calves.

- By Coleen Jones, research associate, and Dr. Jud Heinrichs, professor, Penn State Department of Dairy and Animal Science