Improving Gut Health in Dairy Calves

Establishing gut health and development in calves is essential for building a foundation of performance and profitability in the herd to come.

A healthy gut enables animals to eat and produce more efficiently, ensuring they are performing at their maximum potential. However, an undernourished or unstable intestinal tract leads to poor digestion and depressed defense systems, which leads to increased mortality rates and a reduction in nutrient absorption. Feeding the gut plays a critical role in efficient animal production strategies.

Steve Elliott, global director of the mineral management division at Alltech, is an expert on dairy calf gut health.

“In dairy cows, we end up with what we collectively call winter dysentery,” said Elliott. “It almost seems as though they get scours from being in the barn all winter long. When we culture those cows, a lot of them are shown to have E. coli and/or Salmonella types of scours.”

The Alltech® Gut Health Management program focuses on supporting animal performance by promoting good bacteria, building defenses and maximizing growth and efficiency.

BIO-MOS® for Healthier Calves

Alltech’s flagship product BIO-MOS benefits dairy calves by fundamentally maintaining gut health and stability through low inclusion and supplementation.

“BIO-MOS is very effective in supporting gut integrity and overall animal health,” said Elliott. “Many producers use it to reinforce their animals’ defenses and reduce their risk of health challenges.”

With a proven, 20-year track record of success, BIO-MOS is widely used in dairy operations nationwide.

“I would say that a large percentage of the milk replacers that are on the market contain BIO-MOS and have for many years,” said Elliott.

He explained that dairy cows are kept in closed pens, where the objective is to try to give them a somewhat dry, quiet area to calve. However, many cows may be calving in the same pen, and the spread of pathogenic bacteria like E. coli and Salmonella can become an issue. In order to get the calves off to the right start from day one, it is important to focus on feeding the gastrointestinal tract and on maintaining their environment.

“Studies have shown that feeding BIO-MOS optimizes colostrum quality,” said Elliott. “And we can really measure that in dairy cows because virtually every dairy has a colostrometer that measures colostrum quality.”

Focusing on Good Bacteria

“As we know, humans and animals have billions of bacteria inside us — some good, some bad — that balance each other out in a healthy individual or a healthy animal,” said Elliott. “But when the balance is off, the bad bacteria can overrun the good bacteria, and that’s when we end up with problems.”

According to Elliott, bacteria can only multiply after they are attached to the gut, and so the goal is to trick the bad bacteria into taking something up that’s of no use to them, causing them to die off.

“Also, they do not let it go once they grab onto it, so once they hit the environment, they die off and do not reproduce,” explained Elliott. “In this way, you try not to create an atmosphere where the bacteria can spread.”

Ultimately, the healthier a calf is, the more likely it will achieve its genetic potential. In the same way, the healthier the dairy cow is, the closer it is to milking at her genetic potential.

For more information on dairy cow and calf health management, sign up below to receive access to Alltech’s Dairy eGuide.

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