Innate immune defenses are crucial for survival in the first days and weeks of life. At birth, newborns are confronted with a vast array of potentially pathogenic microorganisms that were not encountered in utero. At this age, cellular components of the adaptive immune system are in a naïve state and are slow to respond. Antibodies received from the dam are essential for defense, but represent a finite and dwindling resource. Innate components of the immune system detect pathogen-associated molecular patterns (PAMPs) on microorganisms (and their products) by means of pattern-recognition receptors (PRRs). Soluble mediators of the innate system such as complement proteins, pentraxins, collectins, ficolins, defensins, lactoferrin, lysozyme etc. can bind to structures on pathogens, leading to agglutination, interference with receptor binding, opsonization, neutralization, direct membrane damage and recruitment of additional soluble and cellular elements through inflammation. Cell-associated receptors such as the Toll-like receptors (TLRs) can activate cells and coordinate responses (both innate and adaptive). In this paper, accumulated knowledge of the receptors, soluble and cellular elements that contribute to innate defenses of young animals is reviewed. Research interest in this area has been intermittent, and the literature varies in quantity and quality. It is hoped that documentation of the limitations of our knowledge base will lead to more extensive and enlightening studies.