Reinforcing calves immunity and improving gut microbiota balance to safeguard health and performance

Thursday, January 7, 2021

Reinforcing calves immunity and improving gut microbiota balance to safeguard health and performance




A challenge for the digestive tract


The digestive tract of calves, as other young ruminants, is particularly sensitive to challenges. Indeed, during the first months of life, their digestive tract undergoes significant and extensive changes as it evolves from its initial monogastric function towards ruminant. Furthermore, early maternal separation, which is common practice, can lead to altered digestive microflora establishment, balance and function. For example, recent research has confirmed that no significant establishment of key fiber-degrading microorganisms occurred before 60 days of age in lambs subject to early maternal separation (Chaucheyras et al. 2016). As a result, short and long-term growth can be affected, as well as the maintenance of good health and welfare.


The first two months of life of calves appear critical for future performance, it is thus important to follow good practices during this stage (Bach and Ahedo, 2008). A 2016 field survey (internal data) conducted in Europe indicates that, in calves, morbidity could range between 10 to 50%, and mortality between 2 to 10%. During a 2-month rearing period, veterinary treatments range between 8 and 20€ per animal, with as much as 30% spent in antibiotics. The main goals pre-weaning are: to ensure a balanced intestinal microflora, a well prepared digestive system and a well-functioning immune response. Good management practices and nutrition are keys to help young ruminants cope with early pathogens and digestive challenges. In this context, a new feed ingredient including specifically selected yeast fractions has been proven to help maintain the health of calves and other young ruminants by reinforcing immunity and improving gut microbiota balance. This was confirmed by a recent trial conducted at the University of Bologna.


A new yeast fractions

Yeast experts have developed a new generation of yeast derivatives combining inactivated yeast fractions from three different strains, each produced using dedicated processes (including two Saccharomyces cerevisiae strains and one Cyberlindnera jadinii from the Lallemand yeast collection). This innovative solution (YANG, Lallemand Animal Nutrition, Canada) is formulated to strengthen animals' natural defenses with a patented synergistic effect on the immune response. Its modes of action is based on two complementary actions:

    1.  A strong pathogen binding capacity: effective against a wider range of undesirable bacteria when compared to single-strain yeast derivatives

    2.  A broad and balanced immune modulation: thanks to its patented, synergistic effect on the immune response, the solution provides a higher immune system modulation without the risk of over stimulation sometimes observed in case of single immune receptor activation by traditional yeast derivatives.


Reducing medication bill


Previous field and commercial trials have shown that this nutritional solution is beneficial to young cattle and other young ruminants (kid goats, lambs) at times of digestive challenges, such as weaning. A trial was performed on transported Holstein dairy calves in a commercial farm (Spain, 2014); it showed that feed supplementation with yeast derivative YANG helped lower morbidity during this stressful period. The percentage of animals treated at least once with antibiotics was reduced by 39%, and animals treated for diarrhea was reduced by 70%. Consequently, average daily gain (ADG) was improved by +50 g/day. In addition, users repeatedly notice improved pen homogeneity in those young animals.

Based on these benefits, a trial was performed in a commercial farm in Verona, Italy, by the University of Bologna in 2017. The objective was to evaluate the effect of the multi-strain yeast derivative supplementation on the morbidity and performance of veal calves. 158 Holstein male calves were involved in the study (52.3 kg BW on average, and 30-45 days of age), during 190 days. 57 animals were in the control group, the remaining 101 calves received YANG in milk replacer, up to 120 days.

    •  The yeast derivative supplement helped reduce calf mortality and morbidity, which participates to reduce veterinary treatments. In the treatment group, the percentage of animals that received at least one therapeutic treatment was reduced by 35% (p<0.05), and the number of chronic animals (2 or more) was reduced by 19% (p<0.05). Mortality was also numerically reduced compared to the control animals (7.0% vs 4.9 %). Finally, the number of animals treated for enteric diseases was reduced by 24% when they were fed with the yeast derivative (p<0.05). The age at first treatment was increased from 26 to 35 days of age (p=0.10).



Figure 1:  Effect of the multi-strain yeast derivative supplement YANG on the percentage of calves that received therapeutic treatments (anti-inflammatories and antibiotics). Note that two-thirds of the 2/3 of therapeutic treatments were administered during the first month. (Unpublished data, University of Bologna, 2017).
    •  During the trial, blood samples were collected twice from 23 randomly selected calves, at day 47 and day 118. Blood level of Alfa-1 globulins (a biomarker for inflammation) and gamma globulins (these are mainly antibodies) were assessed. Both indicate that the multi-strain yeast derivative supplement helped maintain the health status of the calves. Alfa-1 globulins were decreased in the treated group (p <0.05), which means lower inflammatory status, while gamma globulins were increased (p <0.05), a sign of improved immune surveillance through antibodies (humoral immunity).

    •  Growth performance were also improved with the supplement. Overall, YANG supplement leads to a high return on investment by reducing veterinary costs and increasing zootechnical performance and farm profitability.

Table 1:  Calculation of return on investment with YANG supplementation (University of Bologna trial conducted in a commercial farm in Verona on 158 Holstein male calves).

The first months of the life of calves are critical for future productive life and nutritional management is key to limit the impact of stresses on the digestive system and natural defenses of the animal. In addition to good management practices, a new yeast derivatives represents a profitable nutritional tool to help maintain calves in good health and reducing veterinary costs.



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Article made possible through the contribution of Lallemand