Gut Check: Wisconsin Dairy Uses Milk Replacer Supplement to Boost Calves’ Microbiome
The most successful livestock producers know that effective problem solving starts with listening. Ashley Christian was listening closely at a Midwest dairy health seminar in February 2020 when the conversation turned to the importance of the gut microbiome.
“Healthy living starts with healthy eating,” says Ashley, calf manager at Tag Lane Dairy in Ixonia, Wisconsin. “I want to feed our calves natural products that help the gut microbiome.”
The gut is the first line of defense for a calf’s immune system, protecting the animal from calf scours, pneumonia and other health problems. By some estimates, 70% of a calf’s immune system occurs at the gut level.
There are always plenty of stressors ready to challenge the immune system, though. Changes in diet, housing, the weather or weaning can upset the balance of a calf’s gut environment, weakening the immune system’s ability to defend the body.
“Calves don’t always handle changes in their environment well, because they haven’t developed a robust microbiome yet in their gut,” says Ashley, who earned her animal science degree from the University of Wisconsin-Platteville.
A calf’s gastrointestinal tract is made up of billions of microbes, including beneficial bacteria and pathogenic bacteria. In a healthy gut, these bacteria keep each other in balance. Gut health problems start, however, when bad bacteria start outnumbering the good bacteria.
If salmonella, cryptosporidium (crypto) or E. coli attack the digestive tract, this damage can open the pathway for other harmful pathogens to invade the body, making calves even more susceptible to disease.
Among all animals present on a dairy farm, the highest mortality rates generally occur in calves prior to weaning, according to the University of Wisconsin-Madison. This can impact total herd profitability. “Sometimes calves need a little help getting their gut back in balance to stay healthy,” Ashley notes.
Harnessing the power of helpful microbes
Supporting the gut microbiome with proper nutrition is a simple way to strengthen calves’ natural defenses. Ashley has experimented with a variety of options.
“While I feed probiotics to our calves, I only feed this for a short time,” Ashley says. “I was also looking for a natural product that we could afford to feed over a longer period of time to help keep our calves healthy.”
When she attended a Professional Dairy Producers of Wisconsin meeting in 2020, she visited with Dr. Jim Ladlie, founder and CEO of ProfitProAG. She was interested when the conversation turned to By-O-reg+ M/R, a milk replacer supplement that ProfitProAG offers.
“We’ve used some of ProfitProAG’s other products for manure management, and we’ve been pleased with the results,” Ashley says. “They focus on the importance of microbes, so I was willing to give By-O-reg+ a try.”
Grow healthier animals from the inside out
By-O-reg+ M/R is an all-natural, essential-oil supplement. Its encapsulation technology allows for a time release of essential oils throughout the entire gastrointestinal (GI) tract to promote gut health. By-O-reg+ M/R supports a healthier microbiome and mitigates stress to help calves reach their full potential.
The Tag Lane Dairy crew feeds By-O-reg+ M/R each morning, starting when the calves are four weeks old and continuing until the animals are 10 to 12 weeks old. “The calves like it,” Ashley says. “We’ve never had a calf turn up its nose to it.”
By-O-reg+ M/R sets calves up for success, right from the beginning, she adds. “I can tell the calves are more hardy when we use By-O-reg+ M/R, and their coats look nicer, too. Even if the calves do come down with something, they bounce back faster.”
By-O-reg+ M/R is easy to use, whether you feed with bottles, buckets, or auto-feeders. “If a product doesn’t mix well, it won’t work for us,” Ashley says. “By-O-reg+ M/R looks like dried milk powder and mixes quickly when we whisk it into pasteurized, whole milk.”
It only takes a few ounces per day of By-O-reg+ M/R, which can be mixed with other products like probiotics, Ashley adds. “We use about 4.5 ounces of By-O-reg+ M/R for 240 calves a day. You get your money’s worth.”
Enhanced calf health and immunity translate to better growth and gains. “By-O-reg+ M/R has taken our calves’ health to the next level,” says Ashley, who plans to keep using the product. “It’s is worth the investment.”