How to Help Calves Get the Antibodies They Need (with Video)

FBN Network

Feb 05, 2024

Whether this is the first time a cow is giving birth on your ranch or you’ve been involved in calving for years, preparation is key for cow health. Below, Dr. Erika Nagorske and Dr. Spencer Wolter, practicing veterinarians with Southwest Veterinary Services™, share important information on how to best prepare pregnant cows so that they are set up to provide for their calves and what to do if calves need some extra help along the way.

Watch the FBN® webinar replay or continue reading the text below to learn about:

  • Colostrogenesis and Cow Vaccination

  • Why Calves Need Colostrum 

  • Passive Transfer

  • What to Do If a Calf Doesn’t Get Enough Antibodies 

The veterinarians walk through the timeline of when you should vaccinate your cow and why they rely on OGH paste for calf health. They also answer questions at the end such as when calving season should occur, when to get a veterinarian involved during calving, and when a colostrum replacer is recommended.

Watch Now: Experts Explain Calving Season Best Practices

Watch Dr. Nagorske and Dr. Wolter explain calving season preparation in this webinar or continue reading below to discover key takeaways.

Colostrogenesis and Cow Vaccination 

The veterinarians kicked the webinar off by asking attendees how soon before calving they vaccinate their cows. The majority (68%) of webinar attendees said 4-6 weeks.

Vaccination timing is a critical part of calving season preparation. Cows begin developing their mammary glands from birth, but the part to create lactation only starts to develop around 60-90 days before calving. A mother cow should be vaccinated before she begins making milk. 

Precalving shots should be administered at a minimum of 45 days prior to calving. Ideally, though, they should be given closer to two to three months before she is due to give birth. 

The mother cow has antibodies in her nose, blood stream, bone marrow, and throughout her body. She makes two types of antibodies for each pathogen:

  • IgG2 helps protect the mother cow

  • IgG1 with nFcR moves from the mother cow’s circulatory system to the colostrum (first milk) for her calf

She begins depositing antibodies from her bloodstream into her milk about four weeks before calving. Therefore, the pre-calving vaccine needs to be given before this timeframe.

Why Calves Need Colostrum 

When it is in the placenta, the calf starts making the white blood cells that can fight off infection. However, because the calf has not yet been exposed to anything, it doesn’t have any antibodies actually in circulation. When a calf is born, it has a fully ready immune system, but it does not have any active antibodies to fight off disease.

Because newborn calves don’t have antibodies, they must get them from their mothers. Consequently, it’s critical to focus on the mother cow so she can provide the antibodies  to her baby.

The mother’s first set of milk, called colostrum, provides antibodies. Colostrum is necessary until the calf can develop its own immune system. 

Newborn calves need to drink the mother cow’s antibody-rich milk within the first four hours of their lives to absorb the antibodies necessary for a strong immune system. The antibodies are absorbed in the calf’s intestines into its circulation.

These antibodies are critical to the calf’s health. As a baby cow it will be exposed nose-to-nose to other cows or it may fall into a dirty pen. Calves that experience a scour event are, unfortunately, 2.5x more likely to experience a respiratory event.

It takes 5-6 weeks for a calf to develop its own immune system memory. For the first month of its life, the calf is relying on its mother’s immune system memory in the colostrum. When the calf is old enough, it will develop its own antibodies. This happens both through vaccination and exposure. 

Passive Transfer 

Passive transfer is when an adequate amount of the mother cow’s antibodies are absorbed by the calf so that its immune system is set up for maximum potential. An adequate amount is 150-200g of IgG.

However, there can be a failure of passive transfer.

A failure of passive transfer occurs when not enough antibodies are absorbed. This can occur because of colostrum:

  • Quality: The mother cow does not have the right or enough antibodies. 

  • Amount: The cow has a small colostrum quantity. 

  • Timing: The calf does not get colostrum early enough.

Timing is crucial. Within an hour after its birth, the calf should nurse so that it can consume enough high-quality colostrum before its gut “closes.” In as few as six hours after birth, the calf’s ability to absorb antibodies will rapidly decline. Just 24 hours after its been born, a calf can no longer absorb antibodies. 

What to Do If a Calf Doesn’t Get Enough Antibodies

Sometimes, a calf won’t get the antibodies it needs. For example, it may have been born overnight and didn’t nurse, so it missed that crucial six-hour window for absorbing antibodies through colostrum. Or maybe the colostrum wasn’t sufficiently high-quality. When that happens, you’re going to get a scouring calf.

What do you do when you’ve done everything right but there’s a bad scouring situation? 

You can administer a dose of passive antibodies. First Defense® Tri-Shield® is one example. Keep in mind that it must be refrigerated in order for it to be effective. Dr. Nagorske and Dr. Wolter suggest relying on OGH — optimum gut health — paste.

5 OGH Paste Advantages

Many producers include OGH calving paste in their newborn protocol. The veterinarians highlighted several advantages of OGH paste. 

1. Protects Calves Against Numerous Scour-Causing Pathogens 

OGH calving paste is a man-made egg antibody product for managing specific scour-causing pathogens. Eggs are retrieved from hyper-immunized chickens, and the eggs actually have a higher dose of antibodies than cow colostrum. 

The OGH paste contains multiple pathogen antibodies:

  • Salmonella

  • E.coli

  • Crypto

  • Rotavirus

  • Coronavirus

2. Promotes Gut Health

Calves, like humans, need to maintain good gut-health. This means they need to keep good bacteria in their gut. 

Antibiotics like penicillin don’t discriminate over what bugs they’re killing in the calf’s gut. In contrast, OGH paste specifically targets the bad bacteria, while leaving the good bacteria that allows the calf to stay well.

3. Refrigeration Is Not Required

OGH paste is shelf-stable, meaning it does not need to be refrigerated. Whether you keep a tube in the back of your truck or left a tube open in your barn, it will still be effective. This can be particularly helpful for farmers who like to keep tubes in a few different places for convenient storage and easy access.

4. It Is Cost-Effective

Another advantage of OGH is that it’s cost-effective. One tube can provide six doses.

FBN provides transparent pricing on all animal health products. Click here to see how much OGH calf paste will cost for a single syringe and what the cost breakdown is per dose. You also have the option of seeing the cost of a six-unit box. 

5. It Does Not Require a Prescription 

There is no prescription necessary to purchase OGH paste. You can purchase it online in the Animal Health section of 

On top of not needing a prescription from a vet, you also do not need to leave your ranch to purchase OGH paste. When you purchase through FBN, you can get it delivered directly to your ranch. This allows you to stay close to your mama cows that may be ready to give birth at any time. 

How to Administer OGH Paste

OGH paste should be delivered orally. A calf can be given 10-20cc.

A calf should have the opportunity to nurse and drink its colostrum first, but a 10cc dose of the OGH paste can be administered as a preventative measure 24 hours after the calf is born. This is a good practice particularly if the calf came early and was born in a dirty pen.

Alternatively, OGH paste can be given during a scour event. When a scouring event is particularly bad, you can bring the dose up to 20cc.

It does not hurt the calf to give it more than a single dose. One tube of OGH Calf Paste can provide six treatments.

Calving Season Q&A

At the end of their presentation, Dr. Nagorske and Dr. Wolter answered webinar attendees’ questions.   

When should calving occur?

There are advantages and disadvantages on both sides of calving earlier and later.

Earlier when there’s cold weather, the bacteria load is lower. By May or June, the soil will have more bacteria that can be potentially harmful to newborn cows. Pushing back to the fall, there will likely, though not always, be less bacteria in the mud.

Many farmers prefer calving earlier in the year when they’re not planting. Having more time affords them the opportunity to catch issues such as scours.

Having a good relationship with your veterinarian is key. Then, you can make calving work during any season.

When should you call your vet during a hard labor?

The key thing to look for during calving is progress. If it’s been a few hours and the calving process hasn’t progressed, whether that means the cow’s tail has been up but nothing has happened yet or whether the calves legs have come out but the rest of it hasn’t, you may need to sleeve and get a veterinarian involved. 

Set a timer for 30-60 minutes, and use that time to try to get the calf out on your own. One tip for stuck calves is to put a half gallon of lube and a half gallon of water in a bucket, mix it, and then use an equine stomach pump and hose to provide a lubricant. 

If you, and perhaps other farm workers, have tried without success to help the labor along, do not hesitate to get in contact with your veterinarian. Do not wait several hours before contacting your veterinarian because doing so may worsen the situation, and the calf could die.

The veterinarian may set a timer too and, if even with their help the calving has not progressed, a C-section may need to be performed.

When is colostrum replacer recommended?

Colostrum replacer is recommended for a variety of situations. Some examples include when a heifer is depleted or when the mother cow dies during the birthing process.

Dr. Nagorske explains more in the short video Colostrum Replacer 101.

What amount of colostrum replacer is recommended?

150-200g of IgG is needed for passive transfer. It’s important to read the fine print on colostrum replacer bags to determine the exact amount of replacer to give to your calf. One bag of colostrum replacer may not be the equivalent of 150g of IgG. You could, for example, need three bags of colostrum replacer to ensure your calf gets the antibodies it needs. 

Depending on the situation, you may be giving the calf a full colostrum replacement or you may be supplementing. Do the math to ensure you purchase what you need. 

Should Excede® be given as a preventative?

Excede® is a more powerful treatment that should not be used unnecessarily. If administered when it’s not needed, the calf may not respond to it as well when it’s actually needed for bovine respiratory disease (BRD).

Instead, give OGH paste as a preventative.

How often should OGH be given?

For a “bottle calf” — a calf that is being bottle-fed because it has been rejected by or separated from its mother — administer 10cc once for three days in a row. This will keep reintroducing the antibodies to break down the viral load that’s in the calf’s gut.

For a calf being raised in the pasture with its mother, administer 20cc once. The reason for this is simply because it may be difficult to find the calf in the pasture and, even if you do, the mother may not let you near it very easily. After seven days, another dose of OGH paste can be given.

If the calf has not improved from the use of OGH paste and Excede®, reach out to your veterinarian.  

What naval treatments are recommended?

A 7% iodine tincture is recommended for disinfecting and drying the umbilical cord. Excede® is a good, long-lasting option for treating infections. 

Speak with your veterinarian to determine the best course of action for your specific situation.

About the Experts

Southwest Veterinary Services is FBN’s official veterinary partner.

Dr. Nagorske is a dairy and dairy-calf feedlot veterinarian. She is originally from Wisconsin and went to the University of Minnesota. She lives in Minnesota with her husband, whose family has a farm operation, and two children. She’s passionate about cow comfort, animal welfare, and calf care. 

Dr. Wolter is a feedlot and cow and calf veterinarian. He’s originally from Minnesota and went to the University of Minnesota. He strives to improve animal health and welfare through management. 

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FBN Network

Feb 05, 2024

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