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Feed additives should be viewed as profit enhancing opportunities, rather than a way to fix problems or minimize further losses, Dr. Mike Hutjens told listeners during the January Hoard's Dairyman webinar.

During the webinar, co-hosted by Steve Larson of Hoard's Dairyman, the University of Illinois professor of animal sciences emeritus covered new research on probiotics, yeast and niacin.

Dairy farmers generally see the role of feed additives as energy balance, calcium balance, rumen enhancement, micotoxin binding and, Hutjens' favorite — immune function.

'That's my winner and, with feed additives in the future, that's where we're going to see the action coming,' he told listeners during the presentation sponsored by Lallemand Animal Nutrition.

The role of probiotics

Probiotics, also known as direct fed microbials (DFM), are a source of live, naturally occurring microorganisms. They work as an antibacterial compound, create competitive exclusion of 'bad bugs' and stimulate enzymes and natural bacteria. 'That's one of the challenges - which mechanism may work on your farm under your conditions, with your livestock,' Hutjens noted.

Research has shown that the use of DFMs can mitigate pathogens and enhance production in cattle through beneficial work in the rumen, small and large intestines.

DFMs play a powerful role as exclusion of pathogens, Hutjens said. They compete by tying up nutrient, including iron; are directly antagonistic to the 'bad guys' or can compete with unfriendly flora for binding sites.

'In other words, we're not going to let the salmonella or the E. coli establish in the intestinal lining and, therefore, survive, multiply and cause us problems,' Hutjens said.

There are several products on the marketplace that stimulate the animal's immune response.

'This is very exciting to me and can really be very, very effective,' he said.

Enhancing gut health

DFMs can also enhance gut health, a concept Hutjens finds interesting, as well.

The microbes with potential include L. acidophilus, which can increase dry matter intake under stress; P. acidpropionici, which can increase propionic acid and P. freudenrechii, which lends itself to weight gain in calves. 'This is interesting because of the different microbes, different numbers of microbes and different effects,' Hutjens noted.

To be effective, Hutjens figures a DFM must be beneficial, non-pathogenic and non-toxic, present as viable cells, capable of surviving and metabolizing in the gut, and be stable and capable of remaining viable for long periods under storage and field conditions.

'These five points are really pretty important when we look at DFMs,' he said.

Research is now capable of DNA analysis for identification of specific bacteria. That's important, as is the source of the data, which might be from a feedlot of steers instead of the barn environment specific to dairy animals.

There are a lot of claims out there, Hutjens observed. They range from suppression of clinical infections such as mastitis, improved effects in the rumen, better utilization of feed, higher milk production and improved animal health.

The current themes and focus include reducing variation in the rumen, controlling lactic acid production and stimulating lactic utilizers via production of lactic acid.

Hutjens suggested the primary role for supplementing DFMs could be following periods of higher stress, such as neonatal calves, post weaning, following shipping, during periods of heat stress, during early postpartum and following metabolic disorders such as milk fever.

The questions to ask the consultant or whoever is selling the product start with which animals will be targeted for supplementation, such as baby calves, transition or fresh cows. The cost of targeting particular animals versus all of the animals must also be weighed, as well as the delivery method, which could be in the water or as a paste, bolus or drench.

Consider maintaining the bacterial viability of the additive. Question what pelleted or heating does to the viability of the product, the storage times, as well as the impact of momensin and other antibiotics.

'Momensin impacts gram-positive organisms, so if you're feeding a DFM that's a gram-positive organism --hmmm. You may want to think that one through, as well,' Hutjens said.

The reasons dairy producers hesitate to use DFM's include a lack of published research and questions about which bacteria or combination of bugs would be most effective, what group to animals to target and the correct dosage.

Hutjens' dilemmas

Hutjens' review of the 'controversy all' topic brought up four personal dilemmas, beginning with the sheer number of DFM products on the market.

'There are 27 different microorganism in probiotic products. Do you have a good one or a good combination, a winner?' he asked.

The value of the information presented about a particular product can also be a dilemma. Recommendations at the farm gate can come from the farm 's veterinarian, feed consultant, AI personnel, milk sanitarian, feed company or local extension personnel, if seen as knowledgeable in dairy production, Hutjens observed.

The fourth dilemma is what the farmer wants and expects the product to do. He might want to enhance his animals' immune system or optimize dry matter intake in cow diets; increase fiber digestion or 'super size' rumen microbes.

The dairy producer might want to use DFMs as replacements for antibodies in calf diets and milk replacers.

'We're seeing some of that now coming from Europe, in which these probiotics or DFMs can actually keep our calves healthier. Calves are always at a challenge point,' Hutjens said.

Summing it up, Hutjens highly recommends adding DFMs to milk and milk replacer in calf diets.

'I am convinced it can really have an impact,' he said.

He also advised farmers to continue monitoring product research and evaluating on-farm responses to DFMs. He also recommended they determine the criteria of a DFM for their farm.

Yeast products and niacin

Hutchens also reviewed the newest information on yeast products. At the latest ADSA (American Dairy Science Association) meetings, he said, research suggested these additives were linked to the biohydrogenation of fatty acids, the improvement of lower quality forages, a response in mid-lactation cows, as well as up-regulating VFA production (more energy for the cow).

Other studies reported that, while yeasts had no impact on methane production, they improved fiber digestibility and feed efficiency, and reduced heat stress.

'It looks like some new things coming with these products,' Hutjens observed. 'But be aware, these are all abstracts. We will see what pans out as research continues.'

Turning to niacin, Hutjens referenced a California field study in which researchers fed 3.5 grams of rumen-protected niacin to 672 Holsteins from 15 days prepartum to 150 days after calving.

Dry matter intake increased significantly in the fresh cow pen, Hutjens said, citing a 3.5 pound advantage. Ketosis levels were reduced and no impact was found on milk yield, milk components or fertility. There was no response at higher, more expensive levels, he noted.

Hutjens' biases or advice

While there is a whole cadre of feed additive products geared toward the transition group (close-up and fresh), Hutjens challenged dairy farmers to rethink the issue for other groups of animals.

For lactating cows, he recommends feeding rumensin, silage inoculants, organic trace minerals (zinc, selenium and copper), yeast products, bicarb and biotin.

For close-up dry cows, he advises rumensin, yeast culture, momensin and silage inoculants, as well as organic trace minerals and chromium, and, possibly, anionic products.

In the fresh cow pen, his list included rumen buffers, yeast culture/products, chromium and rumen protected choline.

Hutjens' list of 'as needed' items featured mycotoxin binders, protected rumen choline , niacin and acid-base preservatives.

His 'watch list' includes essential oils, direct fed microbials and feed enzymes (fiber and analyse).

'All three of these are challenged with identification and amount - which essential oil and how much, which DFM and how much,' he said. 'We need to get more research to really tie these down.'

In conclusion, Hutjens argued that feed additives can be an effective and economical addition to dairy rations.

'Ask for research results and, I think, keep your eyes on DFMs,' he said. 'I think there are some opportunities here.'

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