• Open Access

Comparison of Four Refractometers for the Investigation of the Passive Transfer in Beef Calves


Corresponding author: Dr S. Vandeputte, DMV, MSc, Clinic for Ruminants, Clinical Department of Production Animals, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, University of Liege, Boulevard de Colonster, 20, B42, B-4000 Liege, Belgium; e-mail: svandeputte@ulg.ac.be.



Failure of passive transfer (FPT) in beef calves can be detected by refractometry. Nevertheless, different models of refractometers are available, and few studies compare them for the detection of FPT.


To compare the accuracy of 4 different refractometers for measuring serum total protein concentrations in comparison with results obtained by the biuret method and, based on the serum IgG threshold of 1,600 mg/mL, to determine, for each refractometer, the optimal serum protein concentration's lowest threshold for successful passive transfer.


One hundred and eight healthy beef calves, 3–8 days of age.


Observational study. The concentrations of serum total proteins were determined with 4 different models of refractometers and compared with the biuret method by a Bland–Altman statistical method. The optimal serum protein concentration's lowest threshold for successful passive transfer was determined for each refractometer by receiver operating characteristic (ROC) analysis. In addition, the serum immunoglobulin G (IgG) concentration was compared with the serum gamma-glutamyl transferase (γ-GT) activity and with the total immunoglobulin concentration.


The refractometric measurements were highly correlated with those obtained by the biuret method. Serum total protein concentration threshold values of 56, 58, 54, and 56 g/L were found respectively for the Atago, Atago ATC, Wolf ATC, and digital ATC refractometers. Immunoglobulins were highly correlated with IgG, whereas γ-GT only reflected colostrum uptake by the calf.

Conclusions and clinical importance

All refractometers could be used for the assessment of passive transfer using their individual serum protein concentration threshold.