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Turn genetic potential into real performance

Special to Progressive Dairy from Mike Opperman Published on 05 July 2022

A newborn calf is a blank slate of opportunity, full of unrealized genetic potential built by generations of meticulous matings to achieve genetic improvement. The right nutrition and immunity support for that calf will play a large role in helping it unlock and realize its genetic potential.

There are the regular nutrition essentials that start the calf on its way. Proper colostrum harvest, handling and administration is an integral part of getting a calf started successfully both from a nutrition and health standpoint. Following this up with adequate amounts of either whole milk or milk replacer can help support growth objectives, as will the inclusion of a good starter feed. Regarding building immunity, following vaccination protocols will help create a foundation for the calf to build upon as it grows into adulthood.

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Build on the foundation

While the basics are indeed essential, there are feed additives available that can help augment calf development. While there are many products on the market, phytogenic essential oils are a relatively new group of additives that have garnered greater attention.

Phytogenic essential oils are plant-derived, bioactive substances with specific modes of action that benefit the animal. One such phytogenic additive is 100%-natural oregano essential oil, the benefits of which are well-documented to include anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, immunomodulatory and antioxidant properties.

Better growth rates

An independent trial conducted at the Agrifood and Biosciences Institute (AFBI) in northern Ireland was undertaken to assess the impact of Orego-Stim Liquid, a flavoring compound composed from a source of 100% natural oregano essential oil, on the growth of calves fed the product in reconstituted milk replacer.

Calves that received the oil at 2 milliliters per calf, per day in the milk replacer were 2 kilograms heavier at weaning and nearly 3 kilograms heavier at 70 days of age, which equaled a 6.8% greater average daily gain (ADG) benefit over the control group. There were no scours in any of the calves, and in the control group, four calves were treated for pneumonia.

This research trial demonstrates the value in using the oregano-based essential oil, which is a natural flavoring additive, to help support growth rates in calves prior to, and beyond, weaning. Additional research has shown that heavier calves at weaning, and those with a higher ADG from birth to weaning, have demonstrated a higher milk production in their first lactation. In addition, a greater ADG and bodyweight are associated with improved fertility in heifers. The improved growth performance seen in this trial could result in an additional 21-31 kilograms of milk in the first lactation, which could provide a return on investment of 3-to-1.

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Reduced antibiotic resistance

While whole milk can provide calves with essential nutrients to promote growth, it can also contain antibiotic residues if collected from treated cows. This can cause calves that consume the whole milk to develop antibiotic-resistant bacteria in the gut. In a recent trial, calves fed supplemented waste milk developed less antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

A research study conducted at the University of Reading in England evaluated the potential of oregano essential oils in mitigating the risk of the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Two similar groups of calves were fed waste milk from the University dairy herd. The milk fed to one group of calves was supplemented with an oregano essential-oil-based feed additive at 10 milliliters  per calf,  per day, included in both the morning and evening feeding (5 milliliters per 2.5 liters of milk twice daily). Calves were on this feeding regimen from 2 days olds for 10 days, then calves resumed similar rations of milk and solid feed without any oregano oil.

Fecal samples were collected before and during feeding of the supplement, then every two weeks until weaning. The samples were analyzed for antibiotic resistant E. coli, changes to the gut microbial profile, as well as cryptosporidium oocyst counts. Calves fed the supplemented diet tended to have lower fecal E. coli levels, and they also shed cryptosporidium in significantly lower amounts.

With regard to antibiotic resistance, there was also the presence of E. coli resistant to cefquinome, a fourth-generation cephalosporin and one of the most critically important antibiotic treatments for infection control in humans. Calves fed the supplement had significantly lower levels of E. coli that were resistant to this antibiotic – about 70% less (41.2% down to 12.6%).

Realize their full potential

Your heifers carry the best genetics in your herd, and it is up to you to make sure their genetic potential is realized. Implementing foundational nutrition and health elements in their daily management sets a solid base for calves to grow. Including additives, like phytogenic oregano essential-oil-based supplements, can help them thrive and achieve their true genetic potential.  end mark

Mike Opperman is a marketing and communications consultant for Anpario. Email Mike Opperman. 

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