Feed additives in dairy rations may be controversial, especially when profit margins are tight, but Dr. Mike Hutjens advises looking at them as a profit-enhancing opportunity, rather than fixing a problem or minimizing future losses.
'Feed additives can be effective and economic additions to balanced rations,' the University of Illinois professor of animal science emeritus told listeners during the second in a three-part World Class Webinar, 'Feed Quality to Ensure Production,' presented by Professional Dairy Producers of Wisconsin.
Feed additives can play a role in energy and calcium balances, immune function, rumen enhancement, reproduction, foot health, protein deficiency and as mycotoxin binders.
Dairy managers need to consider which additive, why, when and how much for their dry, transition and high-producing cow groups.
When it comes to feed additives, direct feed microbes (DFM) are a hot topic that covers yeast and yeast products, AO products, bacterial products and enzymes.
These live microbial feed supplements, also known as probiotics, affect the rumen, small and large intestines. They can enhance gut health and exclude, compete and be directly antagonistic with pathogens.
'The use of DFM is to mitigate pathogens and enhance production in cattle. There is also lot of interest in immune stimulation,' Hutjens said.
To be an effective, a DFM must survive in the rumen and a strain strong enough to have a beneficial effect. It must be non-pathogenic and non-toxic and must remain viable for long periods under storage and field conditions. 'You better be asking about these things before you use DFMs on your farm,' Hutjens advised.
Technology is making the picture clearer. 'Now, especially in yeast, we have DNA fingerprinting so we know we have specific strains of bacteria in the product,' Hutjens pointed out.
DFMs are said to stabilize rumen fermentation, control lactic acid production and stimulate intake. In some cases, a combination of products is offered. 'The claims being made are good news if there is research to back them up,' Hutjens said.
He believes the primary role for supplemental DFM could be following periods of high stress, such as neonatal calves, post weaning, following shipping, during periods of heat stress, during the early postpartum period and following metabolic disorders.
Dairy managers need to decide whether they will target animals by age (calves or transition cows) and compare the cost of targeting animals to blanket treatments.
The delivery method must also be considered, whether water, paste, feed or bolus, and care taken to maintain bacterial viability.
Hutjens confessed to a quartet of dilemmas, starting with the sheer number of possibilities. 'There are a lot of products out there,' he said.
He also struggles with which particular microorganism in the probiotic product or combination is the one he wants to take a hard look at.
Then comes the question of who and where to get information and product from. The choices range from the farm's veterinarian and feed consultants to AI personnel, milk sanitarians and local Extension.
His fourth dilemma is the reason. 'Why am I looking at DFM? Is it to enhance immune systems, to optimize dry matter intake in my transition cow diets or to increase fiber digestion?', he queried.
Summing it up, Hutjens believes DFM should be added to milk/milk replacer calf diets. 'That's a no-brainer,' he said.
Dairy managers should also continue to monitor product research, as well as evaluate on-farm responses to DFM use. Establish a criteria and decide how decisions on DFM will be made, he advised.
Chromium can be a good choice for early lactation cows, which are fairly insulin resistant, because it enhances insulin sensitivity.
This organic additive can also stimulate dry matter intake in early lactation. 'We know anytime you can increase DMI, we will have positive effects in health and yield,' Hutjens pointed out.
Chromium appears to enhance cellular immunity, an area he believes is going to get a lot of attention in the next few years.
Studies concluded that chromium supplementation during the second, third and fourth lactation showed an increase in conception with pregnancy rates rising from 28 to 31.5 percent.
Research on supplemented cows under heat stress conditions also showed a positive impact on daily milk yield and dry matter intake.
While there is no NRC requirement for chromium yet, the FDA maximum is 0.5 ppm from chromium propionate. That's the level Hutjens recommends as profitable.
Based on the literature, dairy managers should consider grouping cows 30 days prior to 30 days after calving. 'The price of feed, milk and chromium come into play but, right now, it looks pretty good, so consider adding chromium to your transition rations,' Hutjens said.
New angles with feed additives
Niacin was one of the items in the spotlight at the latest American Dairy Science Association meetings. Studies feeding 3.5 g of rumen protected niacin 15 days prepartum to calving showed dry matter intake increased in the fresh cow pen from 42.5 to nearly 47 pounds.
There was also a reduction in ketosis levels, but the research concluded higher levels were not effective. 'Niacin is expensive, but it has impact,' Hutjens said.
Monensin/rumensin was also a hot topic. When higher levels are given to lactating cows, the response is linear with 400 mg per day the most common feeding level.
'Production data from the first 60 days shows a nice increase in milk yield and dry matter intake at 450 mmg,' Hutjens noted. 'We're seeing lots of 400 and 450s'.
Recommendations for additives
For lactating cows, Hutjens would like to see dairy managers prioritize for rumen impact by feeding rumensin, yeast/yeast cultures and buffers. Next, he listed silage inoculants, followed by organic trace minerals (Zn, Se and Cu) and biotin.
For close-up cows, he recommends yeast/yeast cultures, monensin (Rumensin), silage inoculants, organic trace minerals + chromium and anionic products.
Hutjen's loaded list for fresh cows started with rumen buffers, followed by yeast, monensin (Rumensin) and calcium supplements, as well as silage inoculants, biotin, organic trace minerals + chromium and rumen-protected chlorine.