Current challenges in young animal nutrition

Monday, February 8, 2021

Current challenges in young animal nutrition

Dr. Vandana Sharma and Dr. Saurabh Agarwal, Nutricare


Nothing shows positive impact on the liveability, health and growth of production animals and any operation's success, as early life nutrition does. What is fed to animals before they are born and during the first stage of their lives is the single biggest variable in giving them a running start. Providing the right nutrition at the right time to both new-borns and maternal animals, especially during gestation, lactation and weaning, can have profound effects on the overall lifetime performance of the animal. The feed industry and livestock producers are recognising the importance of feeding their animals an optimum nutrient supply, so as to improve their optimum gut health and immunity in the first few weeks of life in order to get productivity gains throughout that animal's lifetime. Protein, Energy, Water, Essential Minerals and Vitamins are needed for all young animals to survive, but some species have specific requirements that contribute to optimal health.

Calves and piglets are born without sufficient immune protection

Even in the best-run operations, young animals face hard days due to still immature systems. For young animals, every hour counts. The immunity gap and lack of nutrients can lead to high mortality and severe enteric issues, and negatively impact lifetime performance. New-borns must be fed colostrum from their dam immediately after birth because it carries immunoglobulins that are absorbed by the gut to help the immune system resist disease. This passive transfer of immunity has proven to improve growth rates and decrease health costs associated with young ones. New-born piglets rely on careful management to survive because they born without antibody protection. Much like ruminants, piglets must be given colostrum immediately after birth in order to strengthen their immune systems.

Protein and Energy- Prerequisite for healthy production

Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins, are compounds that play many critical roles like they're needed for vital processes like the building of proteins and synthesis of hormones and neurotransmitters. Proteins are essential for weight gain, growth, and gestation. Young animals need diets higher in proteins than older animals. Animals in gestation or lactation stages also need higher levels of proteins in their diets. A variety of physiological and morphological changes occur in neonates immediately after birth that affects their ability to digest food. Chief among these changes is the maturation of the enterocyte, so that it may begin secreting enzyme precursors for digestion. Post birth, in neonates, nutrient transporters in young ones are controlled by the level of protein they receive in their diet, as well as the quality and composition of feed. Piglets less than 2-3 weeks old have insufficient pancreatic amylase and intestinal disaccharides, hence after 2 weeks of age only, pigs are to be fed with starch or cereal based diet. Glucose and lactose are effectively used by pigs less than 7 days old, afterwards pigs can utilize fructose and sucrose for energy requirement. Piglets body cannot regulate internal temperature, and they only have enough fat energy for one day. In addition, the use of short and medium chain fatty acids stimulates the gut health of suckling piglets, achieving eubiosis.

For effective young animal nutrition approach should be holistic

    1.  Feed composition and formulation  for physical and mental development of young ones: New borns must have access to a healthy diet that contains minerals, vitamins, and other essential nutrients which support vital body functions and growth. The amount of nutrients required for developing animals varies according to their species, age, living conditions, and access to nutritional feed options .  A calf diet should have optimum energy protein ratio, balanced with Vitamins & Minerals. It should contain 23-26% CP, DCP 18.8-19.5% and TDN 75%. A calf needs relatively large proportion of protein in its ration so as to furnish the basic building blocks (amino acids) for rapid growth of its tissues. Proportion of protein in the ration should be less as animal ages. Calf should receive adequate protein in first 2 weeks. Once rumen is developed, the microflora present in rumen can convert inferior type of protein in better quality microbial protein. Creep feed is given to suckling piglets and it is essential for piglets suckling their mothers for faster growth as sow's milk is unable to support the growth of piglets exclusively on milk so creep feed is introduced at 7-56 days of age. 18-24% protein, helps the piglets to make rapid gains during early age till 10-20 kg body weight.

    2.  Maternal nutrition to benefit the progeny: Nourishment for new born should be taken care of much before it is born, for which maternal nutrition should be kept in priority and extra nutrients should be provided during the last two months of gestation. The foetus is dependent on the range of micronutrients circulating in the mother's blood supply for optimal development.  Maternal stress, particularly nutritional stress, is one of the major drivers of negative consequences of developmental programming in offspring. Livestock can often experience a poor or compromised nutritional environment during gestation. Gravid uterine demand for energy is greater during the last third of pregnancy because energy retention is greater during this time as gravid uterine mass is increasing rapidly. According to NRC (1996,2000) net energy required on 280 days of gestation is 5.174 MCal/day.  Expectant dam should be provided with good amount of green fodder daily so that colostrum secreted will be rich in Vitamin A. Feeding fiber-rich diets to pregnant sows at the end of their lactation period shows a positive impact on GI tract and have a positive influence on the duration of partus.

    3.  Constructiv e measures to potentiate gut health and immunity: Pigs and calves are born with immature immune (and enzymatic) systems. It takes weeks to have them all up and running. During this phase, the health of the gut is a big concern. For passive immunity transfer, colostrum should be given fresh within 2 hours till first 3 days of its life@ 1/10 th of Body weight. Colostrum feeding is necessary as its protein content is 17% as against 3.5% in ordinary milk and is rich in globulin protein. Globulin is rich in antibodies (IgM, IgG, IgA) which helps the body system in fighting diseases. As new born lack reserve of antibodies, their intestinal wall permits the passage of whole globulin at least 12 hours of its life. High content of vitamins (A, D and E) and minerals (Ca, Mg, Fe and P) help the calf to resist infections. In addition to this, it helps the calf evacuating the faecal matter from intestine, which if not excreted may undergo fermentation and release toxins.

    4.  Effective strategies to replace antibiotic growth promoter: Resistance to antimicrobial drugs is a natural phenomenon, as bacteria and other microbes are exposed to antibiotics, they will eventually develop resistance through random mutations and by transferring resistance genes among themselves. Continuous and injudicious use of antibiotics may contribute to a reservoir of drug-resistant bacteria which may be capable of transferring their resistance to pathogenic bacteria in both animals and humans. As a result, many countries have already banned or are banning the inclusion of antibiotics in diets as a routine means of growth promotion. Hence, intensive amount of research has been focused on the development of alternatives to antibiotics to maintain health and performance. Efficacy of alternatives of antibiotic growth promoter is primarily based on antimicrobial effects and their ability to influence and partly modify the composition and overall concentration of intestinal microflora. Some are Organic acids, Probiotics, Prebiotics, Essential oil compounds, and Zn and Cu compounds and have been described by the general term 'eubiotics', referring to an optimal balance of microflora in the gastrointestinal tract. Since, a healthy gut is essential for productivity as with a healthy gut, we can work preventively to reduce antibiotic use without losing profits.

a. Organic acids and their salts have been added to compound feeds, for many years, particularly in early weaned piglets in order to overcome digestive insufficiency and post-weaning problems. Organic acids help in:

    •  Improving feed palatability and reducing diet pH
    •  Giving antimicrobial and preservative effects in the feed
    •  Reduction of gastric pH and enhancement of pepsin activity, which increases digestibility of nutrients
    •  Effects on microflora in the gastro-intestinal tract, reduction of coliforms and diarrhoea

b. Probiotics are live microbial feed supplements which beneficially affect the host by improving its intestinal microbial balance. These are most effective in animals during microflora development or when microflora stability is impaired. Benefit of probiotics with respect to health status and performance is expected to be highest in young animals such as piglets, newly born calves, as they have not yet developed a stable gut microflora. Competitive adhesion of probiotic microorganisms to epithelial receptors prevent the attachment of pathogenic bacteria. Besides this, they increase synthesis of lactic acid to maintain intestinal pH, increases production of specific antibacterial substances, reduces production of toxic amines and decrease ammonia level in the gastro-intestinal tract. They also have beneficial effects on the intestinal immune system, an improved intestinal defence against viral infections.

Probiotics are also useful under specific conditions whereby calves are exposed to immune or management challenges that may disrupt the intestinal environment. Under stress conditions, probiotics may reduce the risk of scours caused by an upset in the normal intestinal flora of calves. As in the neonatal calf, the response to probiotics might be greater if administered to newly weaned calves, which are more prone to health problems.

c. Prebiotics are non-digestible oligosaccharides which are fed in order to control or manipulate microbial composition and activity, thereby assisting to maintain a beneficial microflora. Prebiotics include a diversity of non-starch polysaccharides (NSP) or oligosaccharides including mannan-oligosaccharide (MOS), fructans (FOS and inulin), oligofructose etc. Dietary inclusion levels of potential prebiotics are usually 0.1 to 0.5 per cent. They give resistance to gastric acidity, helps hydrolysis by digestive enzymes and enhances gastrointestinal absorption, fermentation by intestinal microflora and selective stimulation of the growth and/or activity of those intestinal bacteria that contribute to health and well-being. During the first few weeks of life, or longer in the case of veal calves maintained on low-roughage, prebiotics can be used to increase growth, improve FCR, reduce the incidence and severity of scours.

d. Essential oil shows a potential for the replacement of antibiotic growth promoters due to presence of various active ingredients like thymol, carvacrol, eugenol and apparently no side effects. Due to their antibacterial activity, they might be able to modify the composition of intestinal microflora and to exert beneficial effects on performance of production animals. It also increases digestive enzyme production. Essential oil showed an overall modification of the microflora, a reduction of Clostridium perfringens, a decrease in E. coli numbers in intestine of animals. Cinnamaldehyde has shown to inhibit the growth of Clostridium perfringens and Bacteroides fragilis. Carvacrol and thymol can sensitize the cell walls (including membranes) and cause significant membrane damages, leading to integrity collapse of the bacterial cytoplasmic membrane, leakage of vital intracellular contents and eventually death of the bacterial cells and these has very less effect on useful microbiota.

One can use combinations of probiotics, prebiotics and essential oil as a antibiotic free growth promotor. Nutricare offers of probiotics, prebiotics and essential oil fortified with vitamins and minerals in form of Nubiotic, which is effective alternative for antibiotic growth promoter. It has power of oregano oil, thyme oil, cinnamaldehyde, prebiotics, probiotics and nutrients which effectively reduces pathogens like E. coli, Salmonella, Clostridia and increases the gut fauna like Lactobacillus, Bifidobacterium, Saccharomyces. By enhancing intestinal villi length, increases nutrient absorption, thus maximises weight gain and improves the carcass characteristics. It also aids in enhancing digestive secretions and digestibility of feed. Boosts immunity, stimulates growth and has antioxidant role. Nubiotic can be used in feed@ 1 ml/litre of water of drinking water.

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Article made possible through the contribution of Dr. Vandana Sharma, Dr. Saurabh Agarwal and Nutricare