Feeding for health in a new era

A major shift in livestock production has arrived. At the end of 2016, producers will be required to have a veterinary feed directive before purchasing and feeding antibiotics. Ionophores and non-antibiotic feed medications won’t require a VFD. The idea behind use of VFDs is to make sure producers use antibiotics only for treating cattle that have been diagnosed with a condition treatable by antibiotics. Sub-therapeutic treatments are no longer a management option. The rules come as law makers heed public opinion about antibiotic use in livestock production.

Under the new rules, only veterinarians can issue VFDs and they must do it within the context of what USDA is calling the veterinarian-client-patient relationship (VCPR). In other words, the vet will be required to engage with the livestock producer, know and visit the operation and provide for follow-up care. Furthermore, the vet will be required to document VFDs.

Prior to the regulations taking effect, MFA’s feed division developed feed and minerals that use phytogenic technology to provide multiple benefits to livestock. It’s branded as Shield Technology and is available in a wide spectrum of MFA feeds. While research on these formulations began in part as a way to feed animals designated for specific export markets, the benefits of Shield make feeding these formulations an obvious alternative to sub-therapeutic doses of antibiotics.

“The new regulations will change the way that many producers do business,” said Mike Spidle, director of product sales and feed. “The good news is that MFA had already been working on non-antibiotic feed formulations that keep livestock healthy. You don’t need antibiotics if you have healthy animals. With Shield Technology, you don’t need a VFD,” he added.

Spidle said the European feed industry lead the way in feeding phytogenics. With Europe’s stricter rules on antibiotics, livestock producers there have been feeding phytogenic ingredients for decades.

What’s a phytogenic ingredient? MFA’s director of ruminant nutrition, Dr. Jim White, said the term covers a wide spectrum of specialty ingredients. “Basically, a phytogenic additive is a non-antibiotic growth promoter. It’s typically going to be a plant extract or compound that’s been proven to benefit an animal in a particular way. Depending on the ingredient, you’re looking at natural, non-regulated compounds that show antimicrobial, anti-viral or antioxidant effects in the animal.”

White pointed out that phytogenics are usually used in combination to get the desired effect.

When we formulate feed with phytogenic components, the goal is to improve animal health so they don’t get sick. Hopefully, you can avoid antibiotics completely. We’ve focused on essential oils, specific carbohydrates and prebiotic fiber in Shield.”

White said that essential oils have been shown to modulate rumen fermentation, making the rumen less vulnerable to harmful bacterias and fungi. “Technically speaking,” he said, “the oils diffuse through cytoplasmic membrane into the bacterial cell and cause a chain reaction that ends with the bad cell dying.”

The specific carbohydrates at work are mannan-oligosaccharides and glucans that target gut health in the animal.

Mannans move through the gut where they interfere with the infection process because pathogenic bacteria adhere to the yeast cell rather than the villi, the little “fingers” of the intestines. Troublemakers such as E. Coli and Salmonella have been shown to be susceptible to mannan-oligosaccharides.

“These are the ingredients we’ve been using in MFA’s Ricochet products,” said White. “We’ve gotten good feedback from producers from these products. What we see is improved calf and dam performance through improved immunity in the cow and better passive transfer to calf.”

In the field, failure of passive transfer is a major contributor to calf sickness. A calf’s immune system doesn’t fully activate until a few weeks after birth, leaving it vulnerable if the dam didn’t provide good colostrum. “Anything we can do to stack the deck for better passive transfer is an advantage,” said White.

Beta glucan, which is an extract of yeast cell walls, is an immune system booster. “You can look to the human supplement business to see the popularity of beta glucans. People buy it by the gob,” said White. “It’s a immune modulator. The way it boosts the immune system is through a beneficial effect on white blood cells, which helps stave off bacterial and fungal infections.”

MFA director of Animal Health, Dr. Tony Martin, said that formulations with phytogenic ingredients show great promise as a tool to keep livestock healthy. He added, though, that like any tool on the farm, phytogenics are just one part of good management. “The things that make livestock most profitable are the fundamentals. Healthy animals make money. So you want to carefully manage your vaccination program. You want to consider hygiene for the herd. Consider how you reduce stress from the environment and handling. And yes, certainly, you want to get the right nutrition to livestock, especially at critical times in their development. If you reduce all the things that can challenge health, your herd benefits greatly.”

“I’m excited about the prospects that Shield brings to producers,” Spidle said. “We’ve seen good results from research, and we’re doing more. If you can feed something that reduces open cows, that reduces scours in calves, that makes livestock more feed efficient, why wouldn’t you? We understand more and more that fetal health affects the entire life of a calf. Shield Technology is delivering health benefits to the dam and the calf. And on top of it all, if you’re feeding Shield products, your livestock are free and clear in more world markets.”


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