New immunology research is showing the effects of maternal cells in colostrum when given to newborn calves. At a Land O’ Lakes Purina Feed dairy veterinary meeting, Amelia Woolums, DVM, MVSc, Dipl. ACVIM, Dipl. ACVM, University of Georgia, explains that maternal cells in colostrum can cross epithelial cells in calves and are associated with changes in immune development. “Calves can develop the ability to activate immune responses sooner due to these cells,” Woolums says. “There are measurable responses to pathogens at Day 1 of life compared to calves that don’t get maternal cells.”

The question becomes which is better, giving fresh or frozen colostrum to calves? It depends, says Woolums, on several factors. Fresh colostrum contains live cells which she says may “coach” the calf’s cells for a better immune response to things like vaccination early in life. In baby pigs, she says research shows that cells from the pig’s own mother are better than cells from another pig.

In frozen colostrum, whole maternal cells have been lysed, however, cell fragments still remain that may contain some of the same immunological factors. The best case scenario would be to give high-quality, fresh colostrum to calves. Until more research is conducted, in the situation of have lower-quality, fresh colostrum vs. higher-quality, frozen colostrum, Woolums says the frozen colostrum with a higher-quality of antibody would be preferred.