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Use probiotics to improve cow-calf operation efficiency

Dave Lindevig Published on 25 March 2015

Every animal has bacteria in their digestive system, and without these bacteria, they could not digest forage, grain or vitamins. As a result, farmers actually need to consider how to best feed the microbes in their animals’ digestive tracts.

Good grain, forage and vitamins in the right proportions will increase the beneficial bacteria and allow the animal to grow more efficiently. Probiotic supplements work with good feedstuffs by providing additional beneficial microbes during times when a cow or calf is challenged by events on the farm.

Antibiotics, on the other hand, kill not only the bad bacteria that they are targeting, but also a large number of the good bacteria in the gut. After an antibiotic is fed to the cow or calf, a probiotic – literally “for life” – can help get the good bacteria up to speed.

Animals are born without any bacteria, either good or bad, in their intestine. The calf’s intestine rapidly becomes colonized by natural means from the cow and the environment. Many studies have shown that if an animal is given a probiotic at birth, the good bacteria will take the place of the bad bugs, which would normally inhibit that place in the gut. As a result, the best time to start feeding a probiotic is right after birth.

On a cow-calf operation, it can be difficult to get the probiotic into the cow, so the farmer will feed a paste to the calf and put some of the product over the back of the calf so that the cow will lick it off. This way, both cow and calf will receive the benefits of the probiotic, including a quicker recovery from the challenge of calving. The good bugs may double every half hour in the digestive system, and as a result, probiotics can help maintain appetite and digestive health, resulting in optimum feed efficiency.

Early in my career as a livestock nutritionist, I realized that an increase in intakes is the best way to fight off disease and the only way to get animals to gain more efficiently. When cows and calves in challenging situations are not eating, they experience an imbalance of rumen pH. This can contribute to an increase in clinical disease and metabolic disorders. Probiotics help to balance rumen pH, which leads to improved appetite and rate of gain.

Once in the feedyard, the calves are also exposed to pathogenic organisms. If they are fed the probiotic upon arrival, they are better able to ward off the disease that is most certainly present in the feedlot. If the feedyard can add a probiotic bolus to their protocols at arrival, these calves will go on feed much faster and have better rates of gain. A number of feedlots that I have worked with have commented on how much faster calves went on feed when supplemented with probiotics at birth. They also said that animals in the hospital pen all did better with the probiotic added to their feed and the death loss was noticeably lower.

In conclusion, a good farmer or feedlot owner uses probiotics not only for reduced morbidity and mortality, but also to increase their return on investment. The good farmer always has a tube of probiotic paste available as an insurance policy against adverse situations. This practice will always pay dividends once the calf is sold or in the feedyard.  end mark

Dave Lindevig


Dave Lindevig

National Accounts Manager
Vets Plus Inc.

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