Colostrum, mother natures’s strong choice – and why it’s worth to follow
Calves, piglets, goat kids, lambs and foals are born with an immature immune system and an agammaglobulinemia. Consequently, new-borns are prone to infectious diseases (e.g. respiratory tract diseases and diarrhea) after birth. Colostrum, the first nursed mammary secretion, is life-essential directly after birth and a real superfood for the offspring. It provides passive immunity (e.g. immunoglobulins, leucocytes), nutrients and more than 50 known bioactive substances for an optimal start in the extra-uterine life.
Passive transfer of immunity
Immunoglobulin (Ig), also known as antibodies, are y-shaped glycoproteins of the adaptive immune system, which target highly specific pathogen patterns in a key-lock mechanism. After immunoglobulins have attached to the pathogen, they alert other immune components to eliminate the invading pathogen. In the mammalian immune system, 5 different immunoglobulin classes appear: IgA, IgD, IgE, IgM and IgD. 70 – 80% of the total protein content of colostrum are immunoglobulins, from which are 85 - 90% IgG and 10% IgA, IgM.
The placenta, a semi-permeable barrier, prevents the transmission of immunoglobulins from the dam to the fetus. Therefore, the intake of immunoglobulins through the colostrum, called passive immunisation, is essential to protect the offspring against invading pathogens until the own immune system has developed. In contrast, active immunization is the qualification of own immune cells and antibodies as a response to a survived infection or vaccination.
During the first 24 – 36 hours after birth, immunoglobulins are transferred through the new-borns’ enterocytes from the intestinal lumen to the bloodstream by an unspecific receptor-mediated mechanism. The amount as well as the time of colostrum intake correlates strongly to the serum IgG concentration and consequently to disease susceptibility (Fig. 1a): the higher the serum IgG level, the lower the disease incidences, morbidity and mortality rates (Fig 1b).
Colostrum – a magical milk
Compared to mature milk, colostrum does not only provide passive immunity but also delivers highly concentrated ingredients for the development of various organs including the immune- and gastrointestinal system. Besides the mentioned immune factors (e.g. immunoglobulins, leucocytes) the antimicrobial substances like lactoferrin, lactoperoxidase and lysozyme are the first line of defense against invading pathogens. These enzymes inhibit growth and kill microbial species (e.g. bacteria, viruses) and infected cells. Moreover, growth factors, above all IGF-I, IGF-II and EGF, and prebiotic active components (e.g. milk oligosaccharides) support cell proliferation, differentiation and protein synthesis in the gut. Sufficient and early colostrum supply promotes nutrient uptake, results in longer villi and a better repair rate of damaged intestinal cells.
For an energetic start in life and to facilitate the drastic change from intra-uterine to extra-uterine diet, colostrum contains high nutritionally valuable ingredients (fat, proteins, vitamins A, D, E and B). Fat and lactose are essential energy sources for the thermoregulation and body temperature, not only in “high risk” calves and small ruminants.
Even in good managed dairy and beef farms 15 – 40% of calves in North America, Australia and Europe are diagnosed with failure of the passive transfer due to poor colostrum management. To obtain an adequate immune status (> 10 g/l IgG and > 5g total serum protein) calves must acquire 4 litres of good quality colostrum (> 50 g/l IgG) within the first 6 hours after birth (Fig. 1a). Either a second colostrum feeding at the latest 12 hours and colostrum consumption in the first days of life shows beneficial long-term effects on health and productivity.
Not only the colostrum quality and intake but also a high hygiene standard is important for a successful passive immune transfer. It is not always possible to provide maternal or farm’s...
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