Help Calves Hit the Ground Running

After calves are on the ground, one of the most important factors to keep cattle gaining is minimizing health challenges, advises H. Nielsen, DVM, Technical Service – Ruminant, Lallemand Animal Nutrition.
“Diseases in calfhood have a major economic impact on cattle operations,” Dr. Nielsen notes. “There are direct losses from treatment costs or death losses. More than that — there is the opportunity cost. During illnesses, calves divert energy from growth to their immune system. The metabolic energy that could have been used for gains is now spent fighting sickness.”
Preventing illness helps producers avoid both direct and indirect losses, but there’s no single solution. A sound vaccination program, good management practices and adequate nutrition are all critical.
Beyond just providing fuel for growth, a good feeding program can power the immune system — meaning calves are ready to respond to disease challenges with their own natural defenses. Researchers are only recently recognizing the connection between gut health and the animal’s immune system, Dr. Nielsen notes.
Bacteria in the gut can send signals to the rest of the body, which helps stimulate the animal’s own immune system. Specific probiotics can be added to cattle feeds to initiate this positive response.
Not all probiotics have this effect, Dr. Nielsen warns. One specific strain, Saccharomyces cerevisiae boulardii CNCM I-1079, is proven to activate the immune system of cattle during times of stress. It is a naturally occurring active dry yeast (ADY) probiotic with research to support its use in weaned calves and only commercially available under the brand name ProTernative®.
In one study, newly weaned heifers fed S. c. boulardii CNCM I-1079 demonstrated improved meal patterns, which allowed for a more uniform level of feed intake. The heifers showed a 0.42 lbs. per day greater average daily gain (ADG) compared to controls during the first 28 days.1
In addition to benefits in ADG, probiotics like S. c. boulardii CNCM I-1079 are compatible with any management program, from natural to conventional. Probiotics also can be used any time a stressful situation occurs, even long after weaning.
“Livestock producers can take advantage of the powerful microbial ecosystem in the ruminant gut to proactively fight illness,” Dr. Nielsen says. “Producers get health benefits while retaining premiums and decreasing the need for treatment. Reducing the negative effects of stress during can help avoid losses now — and down the road.”
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