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Review: passive immunity in beef-suckler calves

  • M. McGee (a1) and B. Earley (a1)


Colostrum-derived passive immunity is central to the health, performance and welfare of neonatal beef-suckler calves, and economics of beef-farming enterprises. Compared to dairy calves, mainly Holstein-Friesian, there is much less research carried out on passive immunity and associated factors in beef calves. Thus, this review aimed to summarise and interpret published information and highlight areas requiring further research. The transfer of immunoglobulin G1 (IgG1) from blood to mammary secretions is greater for beef × dairy cows compared to most beef breed types. Considerable between-animal variance is evident in first-milking colostrum yield and immunoglobulin concentration of beef-suckler cow breed types. First-milking colostrum immunoglobulin concentrations are similar for within-quarter fractions and for the front and rear quarters of the udder. First-milking colostrum yield is higher for beef × dairy cows than beef × beef and purebred beef breeds, and higher for multiparous than primiparous cows, but generally colostrum immunoglobulin concentration is relatively similar for each of the respective categories. Consequently, colostrum immunoglobulin mass (volume × concentration) production in beef cows seems to be primarily limited by colostrum volume. The effect of maternal nutrition during late gestation on colostrum yield is not well documented; however, most studies provide evidence that colostrum immunoglobulin concentration is not adversely affected by under-nutrition. Factors that impinge upon the duration between birth and first suckling, including dam parity, udder and teat anatomy and especially dystocia, negatively impact on calf passive immunity. Colostrum immunoglobulin mass ingested relative to birth weight post-parturition is the most important variable determining calf passive immunity. Research indicates that feeding the beef calf a colostrum volume equivalent to 5% of birth weight shortly after parturition, with subsequent suckling of the dam (or a second feed) 6 to 8 h later, ensures adequate passive immunity, equivalent to a well-managed suckling situation. Within beef-suckler cow genotypes, calf passive immunity is similar for many common beef breeds, but is generally higher for calves from beef × dairy cows. Compared to older cows, calves from younger cows, especially primiparous animals, have lower serum immunoglobulin concentrations. Most studies have shown no adverse impact of maternal dietary restriction on calf passive immunity. The prevalence of failure of passive transfer (FPT) in beef calves varies considerably across studies depending on the test used, and what cut-off value is assumed or how it is classified. The accuracy and precision of methodologies used to determine immunoglobulin concentrations is concerning; caution is required in interpreting laboratory results regarding defining colostrum ‘quality’ and calf passive immune ‘status’. Further research is warranted on colostrum-related factors limiting passive immunity of beef calves, and on the validation of laboratory test cut-off points for determining FPT, based on their relationships with key health and performance measures.

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Review: passive immunity in beef-suckler calves

  • M. McGee (a1) and B. Earley (a1)


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