Nutraceutical approach to pathogen control

Posted on August 4, 2023 in Starting Strong - Calf Care
By Noah Litherland, Ph.D., Vita Plus dairy technical specialist

Nutraceuticals are feed ingredients that have medicinal benefits such as supporting the immune system.  In youngstock diets, nutritionists look for ingredients that increase intestinal integrity, prevent leaky gut, and reduce the risk of excessive inflammation.

Leaky gut can occur when the intestinal lining is damaged by pathogenic bacteria or viruses.  This damage increases local and systemic inflammation and increases the risk of pathogens gaining access through the intestinal barrier into circulation.  These pathogens can then cause damage to key organ systems, including the lungs and liver.

It’s important that research evaluating nutraceuticals provides consistent and quality results.  Additionally, the potential return on investment to the producer and any potential adverse effects of nutraceutical supplementation in calves should be thoroughly evaluated.  Nutritionists need to work in accordance with best feed manufacturing practices when including nutraceuticals.

For example, nutraceutical additives must readily mix into milk or milk replacer and stay in suspension during feeding, be palatable to the calf and have no negative effect on digestion of other ingredients.  In calf starter grain, nutraceuticals need to withstand higher temperatures during the pelleting process.

Nutraceutical additives also aid in the prevention of antibiotic use in calf diets and reduce treatments for enteric pathogens while increasing growth performance.  These are important roles in regulating the normal gastrointestinal physiological function of calves during the nursery and transition phases.

Some examples of nutraceuticals for dairy youngstock include colostrum and colostrum replacers, bovine plasma, probiotics and prebiotics, ionophores, trace minerals, vitamins, fatty acids, and methionine.

Colostrum provides farm-specific immunoglobulins against viral and bacterial strains as well as metabolites and growth factors.  Colostrum offers broad spectrum immuno-therapy against viruses and bacteria commonly causing enteric disruption in youngstock.

Colostrum replacer provides a known concentration of immunoglobulins, but likely less specific to pathogen strains found on-farm.  Colostrum replacer offers broad spectrum immuno-therapy against viruses and bacteria commonly causing enteric disruption in youngstock.

Bovine plasma provides immunoglobulins, amino acids, and growth factors to increase intestinal function and repair damage caused by pathogens.  Bovine plasma offers increased intestinal integrity and reduced damage caused by E. coli and Cryptosporidium.

Probiotics, direct-fed microbials (DFM) increase intestinal functionality by direct inhibition of pathogens, competition with pathogens for resources within the gut microbiota, decreasing pH of intestinal contents, and decreasing pathogen ability to communicate.  Probiotics offer broad spectrum support against Salmonella and Clostridium.

Prebiotics such as yeast cell wall stimulate the intestinal immune system, bind pathogens, and reduce the ability to attach to the intestinal cells, and alter mucus secretion to increase intestinal health.  Prebiotics offer support against E. coli and Salmonella.

Ionophores suppress growth of coccidia and prevent them from colonizing the intestine.

Trace minerals including selenium that activates glutathione peroxidase, which is a powerful antioxidant system; zinc plays a role in intestinal integrity and has some antimicrobial effects; iron is a required trace mineral, but excessive iron in the diet could increase risk for Salmonella challenge; and organic minerals like selenium yeast have increased bioavailability compared with inorganic forms of trace minerals such as sodium selenite.  The benefit includes meeting nutrient requirements for maintenance and growth.

Vitamins including Vitamin E works with selenium as an activator of glutathione peroxidase and other enzyme systems to decrease oxidative stress; Vitamin D supports immune function; Vitamin C also is an important antioxidant; and B-vitamins stimulate feed intake and are important in many metabolic reactions providing fuel to the immune system.  The benefits include meeting nutrient requirements for maintenance and growth.

Fatty acids are a diverse group that can provide energy and spare glucose for use by the immune system.  Short-chain fatty acids increase intestinal integrity and increase intestinal cell maturation.  Medium-chain fatty acids have natural antimicrobial properties and provide a rapid source of energy.  Long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids are anti-inflammatory.  The benefit includes increased overall health.

Methionine is an essential amino acid involved in protein synthesis and many biochemical reactions including regulation of inflammation.  The benefit includes increased overall health.

Vita Plus youngstock products are strategically formulated with individual or blends of nutraceuticals to benefit calves at key stages of the nursery phase.  Work with your Vita Plus consultant or calf specialist to identify challenges on your farm and determine which strategies best fit your calves.

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