Colostrum provides high amounts of nutrients and non-nutrient substances to neonates. To study differences between effects of nutritional and non-nutritional components on growth, health status and metabolic and endocrine traits, a formula was created based on bovine milk components which contained similar amounts of nutrients as bovine colostrum during the first 3 days of lactation, but only trace amounts of growth factors (such as insulin-like growth factor I) or hormones (such as insulin) in whey. Calves were fed either pooled colostrum of milkings 1 to 6, obtained during the first 3 days of lactation (GrC, n = 7) or a formula in the same amounts as colostrum (GrF, n = 7) for the first 3 days, followed by a milk replacer up to day 7. Pre- and postprandial blood samples were taken on days 1, 2, 3 and 7 for the determination of metabolic and endocrine traits and on day 5 we measured intestinal absorptive capacity by testing xylose absorption. Plasma concentrations of total protein and immunoglobulin G and γ-glutamyltransferase activity were lower (p < 0.05), whereas albumin and urea concentrations were higher (p < 0.05) in GrF than GrC during the first week of life. Plasma glucose concentrations were variably affected. Plasma triglyceride, phospholipid and cholesterol concentrations were higher (p < 0.05) in GrC than GrF on days 3 and 7. Insulin and growth hormone concentrations were higher (p < 0.05) in GrC than GrF on days 2 and 3 and on days 1 and 2, respectively, and glucagon concentrations were higher (p < 0.05) in GrC than GrF on day 1 and higher (p < 0.05) in GrF than GrC on day 3. Cortisol concentrations were higher (p < 0.05) on days 2 and 3 in GrF than GrC. Plasma xylose concentrations rose more markedly (p < 0.05) in GrC than GrF. In conclusion, feeding only trace amounts of bioactive substances appears to impair intestinal absorptive capacity and protein and fat metabolism and exert effects on endocrine systems in neonatal calves.

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