Arm & Hammer Animal Nutrition: RFCs help reduce on-farm reliance on antibiotics
Soon after their discovery, antibiotics became an important component of animal husbandry, helping to cure disease and ensure that cattle, pigs and poultry lead healthy, productive lives. Yet the utility of these tools is not unlimited, especially if care is not taken to ensure that they remain effective.
To combat concerns about the development of bacterial resistance, the Animal Health Institute—along with similar organizations throughout the world—have adopted judicious use guidelines to help livestock producers make good decisions regarding antibiotic use on-farm.
Meanwhile, researchers are learning more every day about how farmers can positively influence animal health and well-being through nutrition solutions and decreasing the reliance on antibiotics.
Proven Nutrition Solution
• Mannan oligosaccharides (MOS)
• Beta glucans (1,3-1,6)
Research 1,2,3,4 shows that each RFC has a specific mode of action and outcome when fed to several livestock species, including dairy, beef and poultry. RFCs have also been shown to positively influence the immune response of nursery pigs. 5
What do RFCs do?
RFCs are a non-antibiotic feed additive that can help provide a healthy foundation for animal development. In essence, RFCs act as a prebiotic by feeding the beneficial bacteria found in the intestine while blocking sites for attachment by pathogens.
Adding RFCs to an animal's diet throughout their life cycle can help improve immune function by providing a defense mechanism against pathogenic bacteria. As a result, RFCs can help maintain gut health and overall animal health, boosting immune response.
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.
Reducing Disease Challenges
Research indicates that RFCs have been shown to reduce the incidence 6 , severity 10 and duration of cryptosporidiosis 6 caused by Cryptosporidium parvum, a leading cause of scours in young calves—the bane of dairy producers across the globe. RFCs have also been shown to have activity against Eimeria, another scours-causing organism in other species.
The RFCs bind to the receptors of the Cryptosporidium protozoa (and other pathogens) and prevent it from attaching to the intestinal wall and causing disease10 . The organisms then pass harmlessly through the digestive system and are excreted, assisting in breaking their life cycle and helping to reduce the odds of reinfection.
In addition, RFCs can also bind to (agglutinate) some bacterial pathogens and prevent colonization of bovine colonic tissue by various types (serovars) of E. coli and Salmonella enterica. ,1,7
Furthermore, a 2012 study2 shows that feeder calves coming into a feedlot and fed RFCs required less antibiotic therapy treatment due to a marked decrease in bovine respiratory disease (BRD), an important health benefit to beef producers
Footnote: In the chart, morbidity is defined as the percentage of all beef heifers treated once for bovine respiratory disease. Data were analyzed as binomial proportions using counts of heifers per pen. The results clearly show the significance of RFCs in reducing BRD.
The ability of RFCs to positively influence animal health across species is remarkable.
For example, in a recent study8 conducted at the North Carolina State University, prevalence of cecal Salmonella in breeder hens fed the control diet (which did not contain any RFCs) was 71.4 percent. Meanwhile, prevalence of cecal Salmonella in breeder hens fed the RFC diet was 0 percent.
Further, as shown in the chart below, when broiler progeny of these birds were fed the same diets as their parents (breeders), broilers on the RFC diet also contained no evidence of cecal Salmonella. However, 12.5% of broiler progeny ceca contained Salmonella when not fed a diet containing RFCs.9
Similar impressive results are found regarding RFCs impact on coccidiosis, which is caused by the protozoan-parasite Eimeria. In vitro studies10 show that RFCs reduced the attachment of Cryptosporidium parvum (same class of protozoa as Eimeria) to epithelial cells. Similarly, RFCs can lower the ability of Eimeria sporozoites to attach to intestinal epithelial cells. This means reduced intestinal lesions and more oocysts recycling to maintain immune development.
This ability was examined in a trial11 in which RFC supplementation was compared to coccidiostat supplementation from 1 – 21 days of age in broilers given a moderate coccidiosis challenge with E. maxima, E. acervulina and E. tenella at 15 days of age.
Results demonstrate that RFCs were very effective in reducing E. tenella lesions and moderately effective against E. maxima and E. acervulina in this short experiment.
Reduce Mycotoxin Effects
Likewise, RFCs help negate the negative effects of mycotoxins that sometimes occur in feed. Although mycotoxins do not generally have a direct effect on antibiotic usage, their presence in feed ingredients causes immune suppression that can lead to serious health challenges in animals that ultimately require antibiotic treatment. Measures to lower the impact of mycotoxins, therefore, also influence potential reductions in the use of antibiotics on-farm.
Recent global surveys show that 75 percent or more of ration ingredients are contaminated by one or more mycotoxins. Mycotoxins are of concern because their presence can lead to lower feed intake, decreased nutrient utilization, reduced gut health, immune suppression, poor growth and performance and secondary infections like diarrhea.
Mycotoxins exert their effects through four primary mechanisms12 :
1. Intake reduction or feed refusal
2. Reduced nutrient absorption and impaired metabolism
3. Alterations in the endocrine and exocrine systems
4. Suppression of the immune system
Just as with pathogens, RFCs bind to mycotoxins—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 without negatively affecting animal performance.
RFCs offer producers of beef and dairy cattle, poultry and swine the means and opportunity to successfully and positively influence animal immune function to better help animals deal with disease challenges. As a result, animals are healthier and more productive—which can significantly reduce antibiotic use on-farm. In turn, this helps lower production costs.
Ultimately, this heightened productivity aids in boosting farm profitability while preserving the effectiveness of valuable antibiotic tools for future generations.
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Article made possible through the contribution of Dr. Sangita Jalukar, Arm & Hammer Animal Nutrition