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Why Use IGY Technology

By Roger Saltman, DVM, MBA

Top producers who already have a great calf management program can still benefit from adding IgY antibodies to their calves’ nutrition program. Even when all “the basics” like clean, dry pens, excellent nutrition program, strong herd-health program, and a well-trained staff that adheres to protocols, scours will still occasionally occur. Blizzards, extreme heat and other weather issues, harvest, protocol drift, or employees out sick can create the physiological stressors that decrease the calf’s ability to fight infection. Adding IgY antibodies to a milk or milk replacer program can help keep pre-weaned calves healthier when those “bumps in the road” occur.

Just like the IgG antibodies in colostrum, IgY antibodies provide passive immunity. IgY is the antibody that birds deposit in eggs, particularly in the yoke. Research has shown that when laying hens are vaccinated against the common pathogens that impact calfhood gut health, the eggs produced are rich in IgY antibodies that are specific to the pathogens that cause calfhood diarrhea. When IgY egg powder is added to milk replacer or milk and fed daily, the gut is bathed with protective IgY antibodies that bind to and prevent pathogens from affecting the calf. This boosting of the calf’s level of passive immunity helps to protect the calf while its own active immune system is still developing.

New research conducted on large, extremely well-managed dairies shows that when an unforeseen event such as a drastic weather change occurs, calves that were receiving IgY antibodies had less severe scouring, fewer days of scouring and less treatment cost compared to calves that were not fed IgY antibodies. Even when animals developed scours, IgY helped calves recover sooner.

The relationship between calves’ nutrition status, exposure to disease-causing pathogens, and their ability to fight off disease (resistance) may seem complex. But when calves are stressed, nutrients are used first to meet maintenance requirements. This leaves fewer nutrients available to fuel the immune system and maintain growth. Stress also triggers a release of cortisol from the adrenal gland which lowers calves’ ability to fight infection.

Similar to increasing the amount of protein and fat fed during times of stress, the amount of IgY can also be increased to help prevent disease and maintain growth. Feeding a base level of IgY provides some protection for when an increase in pathogen challenge occurs, or a decrease in the calves’ resistance occurs due to some sort of stress. When such a change happens, the level of IgY can be increased to provide an extra boost of passive immunity to keep calves eating and growing instead of losing ground.

IgY from properly immunized hens can improve calves’ passive immunity against 16 common scours-causing pathogens including pathogens that often don’t respond to traditional antibiotic treatments (Salmonella and E. coli). When these pathogens are present in the gut, the IgY antibodies can help prevent infection or decrease the severity of symptoms.

Another area where IgY can make a big difference is in calves with failure of passive transfer (insufficient colostrum intake). Research conducted on calf ranches shows that in calves that did not receive sufficient colostrum early after birth, the addition of IgY to milk replacer reduced mortality by 80%.

Adding IgY to the diet of pre-weaned calves boosts calves’ passive immunity to help them stay healthy despite disease challenge. And, if they do become ill, it can help reduce the duration and severity of diarrhea allowing them to regain their health and continue to grow.

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