Ask the Expert: Bottle or Esophageal Tube to Feed Colostrum? – Milk Products team

Posted on June 25, 2015 in Starting Strong - Calf Care
Question:  What’s the best way to feed colostrum?  By bottle or esophageal feeder?

A:  Colostrum management is of critical importance for maximizing calf health.  Multiple factors influence passive transfer of immunity from colostrum, including quality, quantity, quickness and cleanliness.  Current recommendations call for the first colostrum feeding to be delivered within four hours of birth, and colostrum is normally fed via nipple bottle and/or esophageal feeder.

A 2009 study at the University of Minnesota evaluated whether the method of colostrum feeding and the volume of the first colostrum feeding impacted passive transfer of immunoglobulin G (IgG) in newborn dairy bull calves.

During normal suckling, esophageal groove closure results in the colostrum bypassing the forestomach (reticulum and rumen) to the omasum and abomasum, which results in shorter transit time to the small intestine, where IgG absorption occurs.  Conversely, an esophageal feeder does not trigger esophageal groove closure, resulting in colostrum deposition into the forestomach.  This delay to the site of absorption may coincide with the progressive decline in IgG absorption efficiency over time, resulting in lower serum IgG concentrations.

The study concluded that effectiveness of the feeding method depends on the volume of colostrum (and subsequent amount of IgG) fed.

  • For calves fed a small volume of colostrum (1.59 quarts) containing 100 g IgG, feeding with an esophageal feeder let to significantly greater incidence of failure of passive transfer.
  • Colostrum feeding method did not affect passive transfer indices in calves fed a large volume of colostrum (3.17 quarts) and 200g of IgG.
  • Increasing IgG mass by feeding more volume lessens the impact of feeding method on indices of passive transfer.
  • This study further confirmed that increasing the amount of IgG fed will produce more consistent results.

This answer was adapted from Milk Products’ FrontLine technical information resources.

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Category: Colostrum management
Starting Strong - Calf Care