RFCs boost calf health and nutrition
Raising healthy dairy heifer calves requires attention to detail. Strict hygiene of facilities and personnel is essential, as are proper colostrum management, clean, dry bedding, good ventilation, consistent feed delivery, access to good quality water and proper nutrition formulated to address the specific needs of each growth phase of the calf.
But that's not all.
Dairy farmers are also learning more about how to better prepare calf immune systems to help these vulnerable animals deal with health challenges when they occur.
That's because health issues happen, even on the best-managed dairies. For example, researchers at Belgium's Ghent University recently noted that the prevalence and incidence risk for neonatal calf diarrhea (diarrhea in calves aged 1-month-old or younger) dairy cattle herds has been reported to be 19.1 and 21.2 percent respectively.1
Calf diarrhea, or scours, is not a simple health issue to manage because it is caused by many different pathogens. As a result, farmers are looking for tools that improve overall calf health so animals can better withstand these insults to their system.
What are RFCs?
Refined functional carbohydrates (RFCs) can help provide that healthy foundation. RFCs are the components harvested from yeast cells (S. cerevisiae) using specific enzymes during the manufacturing process. This enzymatic hydrolysis yields MOS (Mannan Oligosaccharides), (1,3-1,6) beta glucans and D-Mannose.
These compounds are naturally present in all yeast cells, but are not readily bioavailable. The method of processing used to refine the yeast cells influences the size and structure of these liberated components, which in turn affect bioavailability and functionality. Research2,3,4 shows that each RFC has a specific mode of action and outcome when fed to livestock.
What do RFCs do?
RFCs can help maintain gut health and overall animal health. Since health and production challenges can occur at any time, adding RFCs to the calf's milk or milk replacer from birth—and throughout the animal's life cycle—can help improve immune function by providing a defense mechanism for pathogenic bacteria the animal is exposed to during its life.
Since pathogenic challenges are difficult to predict, RFC-feeding can provide the initial defense when the challenges occur. In essence, they act as a first line of defense.
For example, RFCs have been shown to be efficacious when fed to young calves and help reduce scouring caused by Cryptosporidium parvum. RFCs have also been shown to have activity against Eimeria, another scours-causing organism.
The RFCs bind to the receptors of the Cryptosporidium protozoa (and other pathogens) and prevent it from attaching to the intestinal wall and causing disease6. The organisms then pass harmlessly through the digestive system and are excreted, helping to break their life-cycle and helping to reduce the odds of reinfection
Research highlighted in the chart below (Figure 1) shows that calves fed RFCs recover faster than those that do not receive RFCs6.
Researchers and veterinarians agree that management and control of calf diarrhea before an outbreak is more cost-efficient than treating sick animals after the outbreak occurs. Although many enteric pathogens are involved in calf diarrhea, infection and transmission is always accomplished via a fecal-oral route. Thus care must be taken to prevent pathogen transmission.5
Since pathogens are found in every environment, setting calves up for success must be a key management focus. That means following good pen and feeding hygiene, and enhancing gut health so that animals can more easily stave off infections when they come in contact with pathogens.
Likewise, RFCs help negate the negative effects of mycotoxins that sometimes occur in feed. Just as with pathogens, RFCs bind to the receptor sites on these toxins--like aflatoxin--and prevent them from being absorbed through the gut and into the blood circulation. The toxins then pass harmlessly through the digestive system and are excreted.
RFCs offer additional benefits. Because calves are healthier, they can spend their energy on growth, rather than fighting off gastrointestinal challenges from harmful pathogens. The multifunctional nature of RFCs (reducing the effects of harmful pathogens, as well as toxins in feed) synergistically helps the calves partition energy to growth.
While RFCs might have been an unfamiliar term to you a few minutes ago, it's a technology that warrants further investigation. Consider RFCs as a means to jump-start calves' immunity in a way that provides numerous benefits to animal health, enhanced performance and increased productivity.
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Article made possible through the contribution of Dr. Neil Michael and Arm & Hammer Animal Nutrition