The Important Way from Calf to Cow.

Published on: January 27, 2021
Author: Biochem Team
Time: 5 min read

The rearing of healthy calves and its influence on the performance potential of the later ruminant is generally acknowledged. And it is not only genetic which influences the performance!

Every day in cattle feeding, we deal with the rumen and the gut microbiota. After all, gut microbes of ruminants, mainly the rumen microbiota, provide 70% of the daily energy requirement via the fermentation of poorly digestible fibers.[1]

But what is the role of the gut microbiota in calves? And how does this affect calf health and future performance?

Many studies investigating the intestinal microbiota in calves deal with pathogens causing diarrhea such as Escherichia coli. Not only pathogens but also other factors influence the gut microbiota in the rearing phase, such as age, feeding method, sampling site (intestinal wall/intestinal contents), intestinal region and additives. In general, the younger a calf, the more the microbiota composition can still change. Therefore, the supplementation of probiotics and prebiotics is often recommended in young animal nutrition to support the development of a healthy microbiota.[2]

For the development of the rumen microbiota the weaning phase seems to be a critical phase. The rumen microbiota must develop next to the size of the rumen and its epithelium. Significant differences in the rumen microbiota can be seen in the first few months of life. Not only that, there are also differences between the rumen wall-associated and fluid-associated communities.[3] Further research aims to understand the activity of the rumen microbiota and to support the rumen development and function during critical transition periods.[2]

What is the role of the gut microbiota on calf health?

The intestinal epithelium can be a portal of entry for pathogenic agents. With the help of an early developed microbiota, the intestinal mucosal epithelium develops and regulates the intestinal immune system. Thus, the microbiota plays a key role in defense against pathogens. In addition, there is a strong relationship between intestinal microbial profile, growth and health of animals.[4] On the one hand, this can be explained by different metabolites: butyrate, for example, has a very high energy value and is used by rumen- and intestinal epithelia as an energy source. On the other hand, some metabolites of certain microorganisms have anti-inflammatory effects.[4] Stressfor example caused by castrationalso influences the gastrointestinal microbiota of calves.[5] Microbial diversity, especially in lightweight calves, is reduced by stress [5], putting them at risk for dysbiosis (imbalance of the gut microbial community). Stress also occurs at weaning, which can be countered with good quality feed, appropriate age at weaning, and good management.

Often underestimated: the importance of the intestinal microbiota in calves.

There is evidence that productivity and feeding efficiency are also related to the intestinal microbiota.[6]

Which pro- and prebiotics can I use to support the calfs rumen and gut microbiota?

Good feeding and hygiene management is of course the first requirement for a healthy start of the calves. Since infection pressure can be high regardless optimal conditions, we recommend the strategic use of probiotics and prebiotics.

The target is to use pro- and prebiotics to improve calf health and performance, and to promote digestion and prevent pathogen colonization through a balanced microbiotain the gut and rumen. Their use is also recommended in stressful situations.

For example, the following pro- and prebiotics can be used:

Here is an example of the use of hydrolyzed yeast in calves:

Stressful situations often occur due to regrouping or transport of the animals, that are accompanied by diarrhea or other diseases such as respiratory problems.[7] Ingredients of hydrolyzed yeasts have an immunomodulatory effect that strengthens the calf in such stressful situations and can prevent diseases. TechnoYeast (hydrolyzed yeast (Kluyveromyces fragilis)) already proved this, as we can see in the study performed by Hoping et al. in 2020.[8]

In this study, 209 male Simmental calves were used, which were on average 41.3 days old, weighed 81.7 kg, and were transported from different farms to the experimental farm. After being randomized into two feeding groups, (control: 107 calves; TechnoYeast-group: 102 calves) the trial-group received 10 g TechnoYeast per calf per day for 35 days applicated via the milk replacer. Furthermore, 5 kg soy meal/ ton concentrate were exchanged by TechnoYeast within the first 59 days. In addition to weight gain, daily feed presentation was determined, and feces and animal health were assessed.

Figure 1: Effect of TechnoYeast supplementation on calf body weight gain

Figure 1: Effect of TechnoYeast supplementation on calf body weight gain. Data with different superscripts are significantly different (P <0.05).

The TechnoYeast-group achieved a higher final weight and was able to achieve a higher sales revenue of €9.30 per animal. When looking at feed conversion (3.10 kg dry matter/kg live weight gain in the control group vs. 2.88 kg dry matter/kg live weight gain), the supplemented group did not only obviously show better daily weight gain but also utilized nutrients more efficiently.

When looking at fecal consistency, it was noticeable that diarrhea with more severe symptoms occurred more frequently in the control group than in the TechnoYeast supplemented group (control 18.8% of diarrhea was liquid to watery vs. 13.2% in the TechnoYeast-group).

Figure 2: Number of individual animal treatments

Figure 2: Number of individual animal treatments (stand. per 100 calves) in the control and TechnoYeast-groups.

Worthwhile to take a look: the use of medication during the study. The treatment frequency of the calves was lower in the supplemented group and decreased in both gastrointestinal and respiratory diseases. So, hydrolyzed yeast has been shown to have a positive impact on animal health! Consequently, this also has reduced the costs of individual treatments (€3.81 individual animal treatment costs in the control group vs. €2.34 individual animal treatment costs in the TechnoYeast-group).

The use of hydrolyzed yeast in calves positively affects their performance and health!

Indicated by…

  • higher daily weight gains

  • better feed conversion

  • improved feces consistency

  • reduction of single animal treatments

Therefore, we recommend the strategic use of pro- and prebiotics, as the microbial diversity and functionality of the rumen and intestine will be promoted. With individual solutions depending on the farm conditions, the health of the calves and their performance will be strengthened!

Do you want to promote the rearing of calves to gain high-yielding cows? Contact our Biochem experts!


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