Five Steps of Proactive Animal Health

July 14, 2023


Modern day cattle producers are faced with many challenges, including, high feed prices, low milk prices, demographic shifts towards larger farms, feed availability, water availability, antibiotic resistance and even customer perception on animal welfare.

With every challenge comes an opportunity to become better. The need for each operation to become more efficient encourages producers to master the basics of cattle management and the opportunity to implement new technologies.  In agriculture, or goal is not to just be sustainable, but to be progressive in all areas of animal production. 

When we consider animal health there are still a lot of improvement to be made. Bovine respiratory disease remains a leading cause of death on many youngstock and feedlot operations. Metabolic disease in transition cows remains an area of concern, and many pathogen strains are becoming resistant to antibiotics.  Taking a more holistic approach to animal health may be beneficial as we take a proactive approach to preventing disease.

Step #1. Minimize Stress

Stress is an everyday occurrence and includes variables such as pathogens, environmental temperature, diet changes, handling, transportation, mold/mycotoxins, weaning, and overcrowding. Prolonged periods of stress can negatively impact immune function.

Common stress related diseases include Coccidiosis, Pasteurellosis, and Mannheimia haemolytica. These are opportunistic organisms that are commonly found as part of the normal microbiome. During periods of stress, their population growth can get out of control and result in making the animal sick. 

Step #2. Drive Dry Matter Intake

Maintaining adequate dry matter intake is critical to the health and performance of the animal. Cattle that are not eating enough will not get the nutrients they need, will not perform as well, and will be more susceptible to disease. 

Factors that may discourage DMI include high fiber levels, mold, mycotoxins, plant toxins, protein to TDN ratio, and pasture forage mass.

Encourage DMI by always providing clean water, keep feed fresh, and work with a nutritionist so that you can provide your cattle with a palatable and properly balanced ration.

Step #3. Bind and Remove Antigens

The immune system requires a great deal of energy to effectively fight off disease. Binding and removing the antigen can alleviate a lot of the pressure placed upon the immune system. Feed ingredients such as Mannan-oligosaccharide (MOS), bentonite clay, and digestive enzymes can help to remove or degrade toxins in the digestive tract.

Step #4. Modulate the Immune System

A properly functioning immune system protects the animal from pathogens. Sometimes the immune response is too slow and other times it can become too pronounced or persistent.

Advanced research and technologies in nutrition have identified an array of biological feed factors that support the animal during health challenges. These biological compounds prime the immune system to be ready to attack invaders, but also communicate to keep the immune system in check. Preventing excessive inflammatory responses and promoting tissue repair and function.  

Step #5. Support the Gut

The intestine is the largest immune organ and directly affects whole body immunity.  Gut integrity must be preserved to maintain a healthy immune system. Research has shown that biologically active polysaccharides and poly peptides reduce inflammation in the gut and protect against pathogens.  All while promoting epithelial growth and repair.

Choosing the right probiotic can also improve the gut environment by beating out pathogens with competitive exclusion.

If our industry is going to be successful in not only being sustainable but also progressive, we need to be more proactive in all areas, including animal health.  We still have a lot to learn about the immune system, but as we level up our management programs to minimize stress on the animal and formulate our nutrition programs to include components that will drive DMI, fuel immune function, calm inflammation, and maintain digestive health, we will see the benefits of improved animal welfare, reduced disease, and increased productivity.

Written by: Mariah Gull, M.S.

Mariah has 11 years of bovine nutrition experience.  She is very passionate about youngstock and animal health.  Mariah has dealt with autoimmune conditions for most of her life and has found her place in animal nutrition as an advocate for gut health and immune modulation.  In 2020 Mariah joined MicroBasics in an immune revolution to provide livestock producers with the tools needed to minimize disease incidence and maximize productivity of their animals.

Mariah Gull

Innovations Specialist

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