5 Things You Should Know About Prebiotics and Probiotics

Posted on July 17, 2019 in Starting Strong - Calf Care
By Dr. Jenn Rowntree, Vita Plus calf and heifer specialist
Most companies involved in animal health, reproduction, and nutrition have added a variety of prebiotic and/or probiotic products to their portfolios in recent years. Let’s explore some common questions about these feed additives.

What are these products?

  • Prebiotic: Non-digestible feed ingredients (ex. oligosaccharides) that help maintain a healthy microbial population within the gastrointestinal tract (GIT) by stimulating growth of beneficial bacteria; a food source for the “good bugs.”
  • Probiotic: Live, beneficial bacteria (ex. Lactobacillus and Bifidobacteria) important to maintain homeostasis of the GIT microbiome.

What do they do?
Both pre- and probiotics have shown the ability to resist invasion of harmful pathogens by preventing them from binding to cells in the GIT or binding directly to (and subsequently destroying) these invading pathogens. They can help improve the GIT environment for ingestion and digestion, thus increasing feed efficiency, and improve the overall immune system by regulating gut barrier function.

During times of stress and illness, such as scours, prebiotics and probiotics can help correct the microbiome imbalance that occurs in the GIT (referred to as dysbiosis). Replenishing beneficial bacteria depleted due to antibiotic administration, stress, and/or overgrowth of harmful pathogens helps restore GIT function. This is the most opportune time to administer pre- and/or probiotics, as research continues to show the benefits of these supplements are often optimized when given during times of health challenges. By targeting specific periods when animals are most at risk of developing disease or exposed to stress, producers can maximize benefits of feeding these supplements.

What is in a prebiotic or probiotic?
Prebiotics, such as oligosaccharides, are a major nutritional source for beneficial bacteria, like Lactobacillus and Bifidobacteria. Following ingestion, these prebiotics must survive digestion by enzymes in the upper GIT and make it to the hindgut. Once metabolized, many oligosaccharides become short-chain fatty acids (SCFA). These SCFA interact with and provide energy for cells that line the gut and immune system, as well as feed the beneficial bacteria.

Common prebiotics used as stand-alone supplements, or ones added in milk replacers/milk additives, include mannan-oligosaccharides (MOS), beta-glucans, and yeast prebiotics, such as Saccharomyces cerevisiae. Mannans are a component of yeast cell wall capable of binding gram-negative bacteria, like Salmonella and E. coli, to help reduce the load of harmful bacteria to which a calf’s GIT is exposed. Β-glucans are another component of the yeast cell wall that can impact immune function following their fermentation.

Can they improve colostrum?
So far, results about whether it is beneficial to add a prebiotic or probiotic to colostrum (or administer it prior to feeding colostrum) is conflicting. It is unknown if this interferes with gut closure in the first few hours of life or how it may impact the microbiome development. In general, high-quality colostrum contains numerous oligosaccharides (natural prebiotics) and, thus, should not need to be enhanced.  Stay tuned for future research on this topic.

What should I know before I buy?
When choosing and purchasing probiotics, ensure you buy from a reputable, calf-focused supplier whose manufacturer can guarantee a broad-spectrum of live bacteria that provides a count of at least 1 billion cfu per day. Follow guidelines for dosage, storage and expiration date for optimal results.

As for prebiotics, the mannan compound of α-1-3 and α-1-6 branched MOS is an effective form of mannose that can bind to E. coli in the intestine. Overall quality (form) of mannose in prebiotic supplements will determine efficacy over quantity of mannose in a product. Therefore, it is important to purchase from a supplier that uses a reputable source of prebiotics with agglutination data.

In general, when selecting any feed supplement, such as probiotics or prebiotics, always ask for research data regarding its efficacy, follow directions for use and storage, and choose from a reputable company.

Category: Animal health
Calf and heifer nutrition
Starting Strong - Calf Care