Raising healthy high performing calves: using botanicals to improve calf health and performance
The aim of successful calf rearing is to produce a healthy calf which is capable of optimum performance throughout its life from birth through to adulthood to milking and/or finishing. The first 3 months of life is the most sensitive period for the young calf, with many stress factors (i.e. biological, environmental, and nutritional). The success of this first rearing phase depends on establishing a sound calf nutrition & health program. A sound calf nutrition program revolves around early feeding of high quality colostrum and the choice of high quality milk replacer and starter ration. Colostrum, provides maternal antibodies (immunoglobulins) to protect the young calf against the common infections that it is likely to encounter in early life. High quality fortified milk replacer and starter, support the calf to remain healthy and achieve maximum growth, which will be reflected in the calf's future performance. A healthy fast growing calf can produces more milk during its first lactation compared to a slow growing calf that suffered from disease during early life. Recent meta-analysis with data from 15000 heifers, showed that a-225-kg of additional milk in the first lactation can be expected for each 100 g/d extra growth during the first 2 months of the heifer's life (calf).
Calf's health: Scouring and pneumonia
Ensuring that each calf receives sufficient high quality colostrum immediately after calving is not always easy or possible. Colostrum quality depends on many factors; age and breed of the cow, previous exposure to disease, length of the dry period and nutrition and vaccination of the dam. Dairy cows in general produce colostrum with much lower concentration of IgG compared with beef cows (50 vs. 150 g of IgG/l). Dairy calves with low levels of immunoglobulins have the highest incidence of diarrhea, and respiratory disease. Scours (diarrhea) and pneumonia are the main causes of calf morbidity & mortality. The majority of calf scours are caused by six organisms: viruses such as rotavirus and coronavirus, bacteria such as E. coli and Salmonella sp., and protozoa, such as cryptosporidia and coccidia. The underlying cause of pneumonia or bovine respiratory disease (BRD) is extremely complex with the involvement of viruses, bacteria and mycoplasma. The main viruses that cause pneumonia in calves are IBR, RSV, PI-3, and BVD. Traditionally, to overcome this, antibiotics have been used in calf nutrition (in CMR and/or starter feed). It is known that viruses are unaffected by antibiotics, however, antibiotic treatment is usually administered to kill off any secondary bacterial infections and offer the calf the opportunity to fight the disease. In 2007, the use of antimicrobial growth promoter for preventative purposes was banned in the EU and is under great pressure in the USA and many other countries around the world. The use of antibiotics for preventative reasons contributes to the ever increasing antibiotic resistance.
Healthy calves without antibiotics in feed
In a post antimicrobial growth promoters' era, to ensure a healthy calf, the aim should be to minimize calf's exposure to disease, and maximize its natural immune system. Option to achieve this include: 1- improving colostrum quality, 2- improving colostrum IgG's absorption, 3- stimulating and supporting the calf's natural defense mechanisms and its digestive system to prevent the establishment of disease and improve digestibility, nutrient absorption and feed utilization. Colostrum quality can be improved by a sound dry cow management and nutrition program; or by the addition of IgG (such as from spray-dried plasma, serum or globulins) to colostrum. Feeding certain botanicals, fatty acids and direct fed microbial (DFM) (especially yeast cell walls) to the dry cow has shown to improve its immune system and stimulate the production of higher quality colostrum, which can improve the health status of the calf during the first 3 weeks of life. Nutriad's product Sentigaurd-R, a unique combination of DFM, and fatty acids, has been successfully used in dry and transition cow mineral mix to improve cows natural defense and colostrum quality in terms of IgG concentration. Supplementing diets of dry cow with special fatty acids can modify the FA profile of colostrum and influence the efficiency of immunoglobulin (IgG) absorption in calves consuming this colostrum. A recent study showed that serum concentrations of total IgG and anti-ovalbumin IgG after colostrum feeding were higher in calves born from cows supplemented with palmitic acid (C16:0) compared with essential fatty acids (EFA). Colostrum supplements (composed of bovine colostrum, other milk products, or bovine serum) can be used to improve the quality of colostrum and increase the amount of IgG fed to calves when confronted with low or medium quality colostrum. In recent studies, calves fed bovine serum-based colostrum replacer have performed as well as calves fed good quality maternal colostrum with no differences in IgG levels, efficiency of IgG absorption, incidence of scours, or growth rates.
Colostrum absorption & saponins
It is already known that time of the first colostrum feeding is the most critical factor affecting IgG absorption efficiency, hence it is absolutely essential to do everything possible to feed colostrum or colostrum replacer products as soon as possible after birth. It could be possible to improve absorption rate of IgG from colostrum or colostrum replacement products by using special plant extracts that can increase intestinal permeability. Yucca extract and saponins have shown to significantly alter the permeability of the intestinal mucosa. Yucca saponins affect the permeability of intestinal cells by forming complexes with sterols (e.g. cholesterol) in mucosal cell membranes. Many authors found that Yucca saponins increase the permeability of intestinal mucosal cells, and concluded that they may facilitate the uptake of substances to which the gut would normally be impermeable. Yucca saponins are used as agent to enhance absorption of orally administered drugs and vaccines. Quillaja saponins are widely used as adjuvants in oral vaccines; to improve their effectiveness by facilitating the absorption of large molecules. Nutriad's Nutri-Saponin PV, can be used to effectively improve absorption of IgG and other nutrients in colostrum and colostrum replacement and supplements products.
Botanicals (Apex) and calf health
Botanicals and plant extracts have been used for medicinal purposes in humans and animals for centuries. Recently a renewed interest in using botanicals to stimulate the immune and GIT systems in farmed animals led to the introduction of many products to the market. Botanicals contain active components and metabolites that are able to scavenge free radicals, inhibit peroxidation of membrane lipids, chelate metals, and stimulate the activity of antioxidant enzymes. But the most important activities of most plant extracts are as antimicrobials and antiseptics. Many studies illustrated the efficacy of plant extracts as antimicrobials against many gram positive and negative bacteria, Enteropathogenic bacteria, and a wide range of fungi, parasites, protozoa and viruses. This influences gut health via modulating intestinal epithelial barrier and leads to improved nutrient absorption and utilization for growth purposes. Few other studies also indicated that plant extracts can influence the neuroendocrine system function of the animal and stimulate the secretion of digestive enzymes (lipases, proteases and lactases). This can lead to better nutrient digestibility especially for less digestible protein sources in milk replacer and starter feed. Therefore many botanicals can be used to stimulate and support the calf's natural defense mechanisms and its digestive system leading to improved intestinal and general health and feed utilization.
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Article made possible through the contribution of Nutriad