Electronic Journal of Polish Agricultural Universities (EJPAU) founded by all Polish Agriculture Universities presents original papers and review articles relevant to all aspects of agricultural sciences. It is target for persons working both in science and industry,regulatory agencies or teaching in agricultural sector. Covered by IFIS Publishing (Food Science and Technology Abstracts), ELSEVIER Science - Food Science and Technology Program, CAS USA (Chemical Abstracts), CABI Publishing UK and ALPSP (Association of Learned and Professional Society Publisher - full membership). Presented in the Master List of Thomson ISI.
Volume 8
Issue 2
Veterinary Medicine
Available Online: http://www.ejpau.media.pl/volume8/issue2/art-16.html


Małgorzata Błaszkowska1, Jan Twardoń2
1 Department and Clinic of Reproduction, Ruminats Diseases and Animal Health Protection, Agricultural University of Wroclaw, Poland
2 Department of Reproduction and Clinic of Farm Animals, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, Wrocław University of Environmental and Life Science, Poland



The occurrence of young calves' morbidity and mortality is quite often in large commercial dairy farms. It significantly rises the financial costs of breeding cows. For calves' neonates the most important factor in preventing diseases is colostrum and its immunoglobulins. The passive transfer of immunoglobulins could often be possible only if postnatal vitality of a calf is good enough to allow suckling. In our investigations we tried to estimate relationships between postnatal vitality of a calf and the ability to absorb colostral Ig. There were investigated: postnatal vitality, the amount of ingested colostrum, the time needed for first suckling and occurrence of diseases among investigated calves.

Key words: calf, immunoglobulin, vitality, diseases.


The way of breeding animals in large commercial dairy farms leads to increasing of productivity but also could cause some problems with homeostasis disorders. These disorders in newborn animals may affect colostral immunoglobulin absorption. Calves' postnatal vitality is one of the main factors that allow taking the suitable amount of colostrum [4].

Colostrum is formed in the mammary gland before parturition; it is the first milk obtained for neonates. The role of colostrum as the source of immunoglobulin is widely recognized. This is especially important for calves because this species has an epiteliochorial placenta that does not allow for the transfer of Ig from the maternal to fetal system [3].

Absorption of adequate amounts of colostral immunoglobulins by calves is critical for the calf's subsequent resistance to infectious diseases. The most important factors that influence passive transfer of Ig include the age of the calf at first suckling and the mass of immunoglobulins ingested [2]. One of the factors that could affect immunoglobulin absorption is the acid-base status of the calf. Postnatal acidosis is strongly correlated with the vitality and the ability of calves to absorb colostral immunoglobulins [6,10].

To prevent newborn calves mortality it is highly required the precise knowledge of infant current state. Till now veterinarians have many different systems for estimation neonates' vitality, which are usually based on similar systems used by human obstetricians. One of them is the method described by Szenci [9]. His method based on similar score used in human obstetrics. With this score system neonatal state is estimated by muscle tone and cardiac state. Because of the fact that muscle tone has close correlation with neonatal acid-base parameters this method allows for an immediate and detailed diagnosis of neonatal state without laboratory tests, and also allows for immediate treatment.

Newborn calves can get four different notes based on Szenci score system:

V 3    normal tonicity, heat erect, normal reflectoric movements
V 2    low tonicity, abdominal recumbency with head requiring support, reduced number and intensity of reflectoric movements
V 1    toneless, head drooping, limbs extended, cardiac activity present
V 0    toneless, head drooping, limbs extended, cardiac activity absent


The aim of the study was to check also how many calves in large commercial dairy farm were born as V 0, V 1, V 2, V 3 and verify how the newborn postnatal vitality affected absorption of colostrum and calves morbidity or mortality.


During one year 100 calves that were born alive in a large Holstein farm were examined. The cows were housed in cow barn until calving. Parturition was allowed to occur with minimal interference and assistance unless it was absolutely necessary. The cow was allowed to mother the calf for approximately 15 minutes, but the sucking did not occur. Neonates vitality state was estimated with using Szenci score system. After this time calves were removed from their dam, weighed and placed in small individual pens in a calf barn. Here each calf was administrated from teat buckets its dam colostrum. The amount of colostrum and the time needed for first suckling were measured.

Calves stayed in individual pens till the fourth week of life. During this time they were once a week clinically investigated. Later calves were moved to common calf barn and were investigated once a month.

Stillborn calves were excluded from subsequent investigations.


75% of calves were born with satisfactory physical state and they were classify as V 3 in above-mentioned score system.

19% of calves were weak and they needed help with getting up and drinking colostrum (V 2), and 6% of newborns did not show any reflectoric movements, were toneless and had only cardiac activity (V 1).

Average body weight of investigated animals was 33 kg. Newborns classified
as V 3 weighted 33.2 kg (± 2.62), V 2 newborns - 32 kg (± 5.3) and V 1 - 30 kg (± 1.5) (Fig. 1).

Fig. 1. Average body weight (kg) of neonates in group of calves classified as V 1, V 2 and V 3

Investigated calves drunk approximately at first suckling 1.25 litres of colostrum and it took them 1 hour and 10 minutes. The biggest amount of colostrum (1.6 litre) and in the shortest time (56 minutes) was drunk by group of calves classified as V 3. The average amount of consumed colostrum in group of V 2 calves was 0.5 litre, in group V 1 - 1 litre, in 1 hour 40 minutes and 2 hours respectively (Fig. 2, Fig. 3).

Fig. 2. Average time (in minutes) needed for drinking colostrum in each (V 1, V 2, and V 3) group of calves

Fig. 3. Average amount of colostrum (liters) that was drunk by calves in each (V 1, V 2, and V 3) group

During the investigations died 8% of examined V 3 calves, 34% of calves classified as V 2 and 100% of the weakest (V 1) calves.

During the first 4 weeks of investigations any diseases were noted in calves classified at birth as V 3. Among calves classified, as V 2 was ill 41%. Each calf classified after birth, as V 1 was ill. The most common diseases at this time were respiratory and digestive tract disorders (Fig. 4).

Fig. 4. Morbidity and mortality of V 1, V 2, and V 3 calves

Table 1. Birth weight, sex of neonates, colostrum absorption, morbidity (in first 4 weeks of life) and mortality in each group of investigated calves


V 3

V 2

V 1


33.2 kg (±2.62)

32 kg (±5.3)

30 kg (±1.5)












56 minutes

100 minutes

120 minutes


1.6 liter (±0.4)

0.5 liter (±0.03)

1 liter (±0.07)









Among investigated animals there were 37% of bull calves and 63% of heifer calves. However, in group of infants classified as V 3, 75% of calves were heifers, in group V 2 heifer calves were only 33% and the group of the weakest neonates (V 1) consist of only bull calves.


The obtained results show that one of the most important factors that influence on proper colostrum intake is the vitality of neonates. Weaker calves usually drunk less amount of colostrum and it took them longer time. This fact can affect passive transfer of immunoglobulin absorption in digestive tract of neonates [5]. Follows that fact V 1 and V 2 calves had higher rates of morbidity and mortality in comparison to investigated calves, which after birth were classified as V 3. Finally passive protection was probably better in investigated calves which were classified as V 3 than in group V 1 calves.

Some authors reported that body weigh of the neonate at the time of birth could influence subsequent vitality and as a result immunoglobulin absorption. The larger size of a newborn may rise the risk of dystocia and as the result metabolic disorders in calves [1,8]. However, our investigations do not show this dependence.

However, we noted in our investigations big difference between postnatal vitality of heifer and bull calves. No one of investigated heifer calf was classified as V 1 after birth. Group of V 1 calves consisted only of bull calves. One of the explanations of this fact can be larger size and higher body weight of bull calves that may influence on delivery course [8]. A second possibility is that bull calves may have higher blood volume than heifer calves [7]. Some authors reported that heifer calves are generally stronger and have higher adaptation abilities and as a result have higher serum IgG concentration [8].


Postnatal estimation of calf vitality allows for foresight of disorders, which may appear in calves. It allows also for early treatment and helps in avoiding some of possible disorders.


  1. Abel Francisco S.F., Quigley J.D. 3rd (1993): Serum immunoglobulin concentrations after feeding maternal colostrum or maternal colostrum plus colostral supplement to dairy calves. Am. J. Vet. Res. 54(7): 1051-1054.

  2. Arthington J.D., Cattell M.B., Quigley J.D.3rd, McCoy G.C., Hurley W.L. (2000): Passive immunoglobulin transfer in newborn calves fed colostrum or spray-dried serum protein alone or as a supplement to colostrum of varying quality. J. Dairy. Sci. 83(12): 2834-2838.

  3. Bailey T.L., Whittier W.D., Murphy J.M., Schurig G.G., Riva A.L., Swecker W.S., Pelzer K.D., Bass R.T., Caudel D., Eyestone W. (1998): Serum immunoglobulin type G concentrations in calves produced by IVF and delivered by elective cesarean section. Theriogenology, 50: 853-860.

  4. Burton J.L., Kennedy B.W., Burnside E.B., Wilkie B.N., Burton J.H. (1989): Variation in serum concentrations of immunoglobulins G, A and M in Canadian Holstein-Friesian calves. J. Dairy Sci., 72(1): 135-49.

  5. Donovan G.A., Dohoo I.R., Montgomery D.M., Bennet F.L. (1998): Association between passive immunity and morbidity and mortality in dairy heifers in Florida, USA. Prev. Vet. Med. 34(1): 31-46.

  6. Eigenmann von UJE, Zaremba W., Luetgebrune K., et al. (1983) (in German) Untersuchungen über die Kolostrumaufnahme und die Immunoglobulin absorption bei Kälbern mit und ohne Geburtsazidose. Berl Muench Tieräerztl Wochenschr 96: 109-113

  7. Quigley J.D3rd, Drewry J.J. (1998): Nutrient and immunity transfer from cow to calf pre- and postcalving. J. Dairy Sci. 81(10): 2779-2790.

  8. Roy J. H. B. (1990): The calf. Vol 1. Management of health. Butterworths, Boston, MA.

  9. Szenci O. (1982): Correlations between muscle tone and acid-base balance in newborn calves: experimental substantiation of a simple new score system proposed for neonatal status diagnosis. Acta Veterinaria Academiae Scientiarum Hungaricae, 30(1-3): 79-84.

  10. Szenci O., Taverne M., Bakonyi S., et al. (1988) Comparison between pre- and postnatal acid-base status of calves and their perinatal mortality. Vet Q; 10: 140-144.

Małgorzata Błaszkowska
Department and Clinic of Reproduction,
Ruminats Diseases and Animal Health Protection,
Agricultural University of Wroclaw, Poland
Grunwaldzki Square 49, 50-366, Wroclaw, Poland
tel/fax 0048 71 3205 306
email: bgosia@epf.pl

Jan Twardoń
Department of Reproduction and Clinic of Farm Animals, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, Wrocław University of Environmental and Life Science, Poland
pl. Grunwaldzki 47
50-366 Wrocław, Poland
Phone +48 71 32-05-306
fax: +48 71 32-05-302
email: jan.twardon@up.wroc.pl

Responses to this article, comments are invited and should be submitted within three months of the publication of the article. If accepted for publication, they will be published in the chapter headed 'Discussions' and hyperlinked to the article.