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Probiotic Supplement Could Improve Calf Health

Maureen Hanson



Early life administration of a gut-enhancing probiotic may be a proactive, antibiotic-free method of preventing disease and enhancing health in preweaned dairy calves, according to researchers at Cornell University.  


Veterinary researcher Carla Foditsch and her colleagues recently studied the impact of oral dosing of the gut bacterium Faecalibacterium prausnitzii to young dairy calves. They selected this particular organism after reviewing data examining gut bacterial diversity and abundance associated with scours and pneumonia incidence in preweaned calves. They also reviewed its behavior in humans and other species.  


F.prausnitzii is a butyrate-producing bacterium. When found in high populations in the gut, it has been correlated with a lower incidence of diarrhea and higher average daily gain in preweaned calves. In other species, it was found in decreased levels in the gastrointestinal tracts of dogs with acute diarrhea, and has been linked to obesity in children. This suggests it may have play anti-inflammatory roles and promotes energy harvesting. 


In pre-trial safety preparation, the Cornell researchers compared giving F.prausnitziiorally or rectally to 30 newborn Holstein bull calves. No adverse effects were observed in the treated animals, and the oral dose was determined to be the most efficient method of ensuring each animal received a full dose.


The subsequent field trial included 554 Holstein heifers, which were assigned to either a treated or control group. The 258 treated calves each received an oral dose of F.prausnitzii during the first week of life, and a second dose a week later.


The treated heifer calves experienced:

  1. Significantly lower incidence (3.1%) of severe diarrhea compared to controls (6.8%);

  2. Lower mortality rate (1.5%) due to severe diarrhea compared to control animals (4.4%); and

  3. Additional weight gain of 9.7 pounds per animal from birth to weaning, compared to untreated control calves. 

The research team concluded that these results are promising, and oral supplementation with F.prausnitziias a probiotic may have widespread benefit in improving gastrointestinal health and growth of preweaned dairy calves. Dr. Rodrigo Bicalho and his group at Cornell University are continuing further studies with F.prausnitziiin dairy calves. 


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