It’s 2:30 in the morning, and one of your heifers just delivered her very first calf.

Stilwell, G et al., Can Vet J. 2011 May; 52(5): 524-526 Courtney, A et al., Defining FPT in S Dakota Beef Calves

This newborn must learn how to use muscles it has never stretched, breathe air into lungs that have never before expanded, and by instinct alone, find its first meal – quickly. The mother has been preparing this meal for the past several weeks. This is no ordinary meal. It’s colostrum, and it is the most important meal of the calf’s life.

As warm colostrum flows into the calf, it provides the heat necessary to get it going. Vitamins A and E are present at levels 6-10X higher than that of regular milk, (See Colostrum Contents chart) and it provides a depot of other minerals as well. Fat and protein levels far exceed that of a normal meal, dispensing the needed energy to get all systems up and running. Most importantly for the calf, the colostrum contains maternal antibodies, or immunoglobulins (Ig), and other critical immune factors that will serve as the defense system for the calf through the first months of life. Without these immunoglobulins, the new baby has no immune system to combat bacterial, viral and parasite challenges. This process is called Passive Transfer and life for the calf depends on this wholesale stockpiling of nutrients and immune factors.

“Calves without colostrum, what we call Failure of Passive Transfer (FPT), are 3X more likely to become ill and require medical intervention, and unbelievably, they are 10X more likely to die before they are weaned”

There are 4 Key Factors that contribute to the goal of successful passive transfer of immunity: