Probiotics instead of antibiotics

By Brittany Reynolds

Ansley, Neb., senior

Using probiotics instead of antibiotics on livestock? A person might think, “Oh. So instead of injecting an animal with a type of medicine to keep them from getting sick, we will feed them yogurt.” Sort of.

We would be feeding livestock “good” bugs – microorganisms that are best for their digestive system. The FDA defines direct-fed microbials (DFM) as “products that are purported to contain live (viable) microorganisms (bacteria and/or yeast) and are sometimes called probiotic products.” The FDA requires feed manufacturers to use the term “direct fed microbial.”

For example, the rumen in cattle have thousands upon thousands of unique types of microbes, so instead of giving them an antibiotic to keep them from getting sick we would feed them a ration based on the microbes in their stomach to keep them from getting sick or to make them feel better when they are sick.

Some livestock producers may ask “Why would we switch to probiotics instead of continuing to use antibiotics?” Antibiotics have a withdrawal time to ensure there is no antibiotic residue in the animal’s tissue by the time it is harvested. In spite of this, consumers still have fears of antibiotic residue. Since livestock producers respect those fears, the use of probiotics would provide an alternative to using antibiotics.

Will producers ever be able to completely stop using antibiotics? Probably not, because antibiotics have a true power to eliminate bacteria that cause disease. I believe that there could definitely be a future with much less antibiotics being used. While there is always more than one solution to a problem, we could start by giving our animals probiotics early on to protect them from bad bugs.

Scientists go through a lot of research to pick specific microorganisms in a probiotic that will help whatever is wrong with that animal. Probiotics must be able to survive and grow in the host and adhere to and colonize wherever the pathogen may be. Often, that will be in the epithelial cells of the gut. Probiotics are also researched to make sure they do not cause a resistance in the host.

Advances in products to optimize gut health have led to using a feed additive such as mannan rich fractions, or MRFs, which remove unfavorable bacteria. MRFs are made from yeast carbohydrates and prevent pathogens from binding to gut epithelia. A pathogen causes a disease first by attaching itself to the gut lining, enabling it to replicate, causing inflammation leading to reduced nutrient absorption. MRFs have been shown to improve absorption of nutrients and thus improve performance, according to an article in All About Feed.

Will probiotics be able to work alongside with antibiotics? How are probiotics made for cattle?

Direct fed microbials have been used for decades to improve intestinal health, but recently have been found to improve conditions in the rumen, such as reducing acidosis in cattle with bacteria such as Bifidobacterium and their effect on starch digestion.

Probiotics, or DFMs, work very well when animals are in stressful situations said an article in Progressive Cattle. For example, when feedlots or producers are receiving high-risk calves that have heat stress or are immune-compromised, probiotics can help the animals immensely.

Probiotics are usually marketed as supplements and are not considered drugs that have to go through a formal approval process with FDA. Probiotics are just the “good” bugs that not all animals have enough of in their digestive systems.

Examples of probiotics and prebiotics (MRFs) already being used in livestock are mannan oligosaccharides, fructooligosaccharides, and yeast. These all help enhance the growth of good bacteria. Oligosaccharides attach and bind to pathogens and toxins, which then eventually will be eliminated from the animal.

Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium species of bacteria have been proven to protect animals from certain infections. Some multi-strain probiotics also have a more broad-spectrum effect so that they can decrease more strains of infections. Probiotics also help the animal to absorb more nutrients.

My father is a large-animal veterinarian and my mom stays at home to take care of the cattle. We run a one-hundred head cow/calf herd. My family and I feed a mineral supplement called Vitaferm, which contains Amaferm and acts as a prebiotic. Amaferm helps deliver microbial protein and energy through increased digestibility. Antibiotics are used occasionally when we have a sick cow or calf.

Marketing probiotics in our beef rather than antibiotics will help producers like us avoid dealing with withdrawal times if we were feeding antibiotics. Instead of paying more for antibiotics, maybe probiotics will be more cost effective as long as they keep our livestock healthy.

Brittany Reynolds, a 2017 Broken Bow High School graduate, is majoring in animal science at Fort Hays State University. She is the daughter of Scott and Elizabeth Reynolds, Ansley, Neb.

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