Phytogenic Feed Additives
Boosting production performance with bioactive plant secondary metabolites
Since early history, select plants have been used by humans for their medicinal effects, flavoring and preservative properties. Through science and technology, many of the bioactive compounds from plants have been identified and their beneficial properties better understood. Whereas there is a long history of human use, use of plant secondary metabolites, or phytogenic compounds, in domestic animal production is a relatively recent, but expanding application.
Several bioactive phytogenic compounds found in herbs, essential oils and other plant-based substances have been demonstrated to improve production performance of dairy cows, rearing calves and feedlot beef. Phytogenic feed additives are not limited to bovine applications, but also suited for small ruminants such as sheep, goats and camelids for dairy or meat production.
Phytogenic feed additives, known as PFAs or botanicals, are substances of plant origin added to animal diets at recommended levels with the aim of improving feed acceptance, digestibility, gut health and performance. These compounds can have a broad range of bioactive properties, for example, herbs, spices, essential oils and oleoresins contain a wide variety of chemical substances i.e. phenols and flavonoids, that can have beneficial effects on nutrient utilization by stimulating digestive enzymes. Their positive impact on digestibility influences feed conversion ratios and reduces nutrient excretion, which in turn enhances economic return and environmental sustainability.
Effects of PFA are more than just digestion stimulants, as the also exhibit various beneficial properties that enhance animal health, performance and wellbeing. A number of PFA have been noted for their antimicrobial, antioxidant and potentially antiparasitic and antiviral activity. They can help to stimulate the endocrine and immune system to alleviate cellular stress and bolster the animal’s natural capacity to resist pathogens (Giannenas et al. 2013).
How Biomin phytogenics work
Digestarom® is a PFA product line consisting of a unique blend of herbs, extracts and essential oils that improves the palatability of feed and supports the development of the gastrointestinal tract and can help ease stress during critical periods in animal production and development. Improving the palatability of feed, ensures that animals reach and maintain optimal feed intake levels. Furthermore, Digestarom® is proven to enhance digestibility, which is a pre-requisite for the efficient conversion of raw materials into milk production or growth performance, while also reducing intestinal stress. Improved digestibility of feed means there are less free nutrients available in the gut to nourish pathogenic bacteria, as well as less nutrients being excreted into the environment, thus reducing potential greenhouse gas (GHG) impact. Digestarom® is a three-way win for producers through better animal wellbeing, enhanced economic performance and improved environment sustainability.
Digestarom® is the evolution of rigorous research testing conducted in conjunction with universities and private test facilities as well as under commercial setting throughout the world. The Digestarom® product line consists of specific formulations suited to different stages of production and applications.
Not all PFAs are equal
In their concentrated forms, these plant-based active ingredients can have profound activities. One of the challenges with new technologies is that not all phytogenic products are either formulated the same or the quality of the raw ingredients are the same. Distillation processes can have different efficiencies in concentrating key compounds and different raw ingredient sources may have differing concentration of these same compounds. A mark of reliability for any phytogenic product is to have a strong Quality Control (QC) program behind it to insure both consistency and efficacy.
Learn more about the application of phytogenics in:
Milk production is the lifeblood of any dairy operation. Efficient production is core to economic sustainability. Efficient production focuses on herd health and longevity in the sense that healthy cows have the best feed utilization and higher life time productivity generates the greatest return on investment for producers.
Transition period metabolic disorders
The transition period poses the greatest challenge to dairy cows, with the majority of involuntary culls or early death occurring within 30 days of calving. The nutritional, metabolic, physiological and immunological challenges faced during the transition phase not only determine the success of the current lactation, but also the probability of being retained in the herd for the subsequent lactation. Metabolic disorders commonly affecting transition cows include ketosis, metritis, acidosis, left displaced abomasum and hypocalcemia (Fig. 1), however, some disorders relating to transition period challenges may not materialize until later in the lactation, such as laminitis and mastitis (Sundrum 2015). One point that should not be overlook is that metabolic disorders in early lactation prolong the negative energy period and can have a direct impact on fertility.
A common theme linking these metabolic disorders is the stress that occurs earlier on at the molecular level, which sets a cascade of events in motion that cumulates in the clinical signs produces recognize in the stall. The role of cellular stress and the associated inflammatory response when stress levels exceed the cow’s ability to cope with the added burden, are becoming more widely recognized and are the focus of a growing body of research. Bradford et al. (2015) provides a thorough review of the mechanisms leading to inflammatory reactions, their impact on dairy production and how constant low-level stressors from internal and external source can be as or more dangerous than acute stressors to animal health. Although the transition period is a critical point, other factors can emerge during the course of a lactation that raise the stress level and are detrimental cow health and production. Nutritional challenges, for example, such as unbalanced diets, mixing errors or sorting can induce sub-acute acidosis (SARA) leading to elevated levels of lipopolysaccharides (LPS) associated risk of developing leaky gut syndrome. Likewise, environmental and welfare factors, such as heat stress or stall comfort and hygiene can place the cows under prolonged periods of significant stress, often indicated by elevated somatic cell counts (SCC) and increased joint lameness or claw bruising.
The future of dairy nutrition will be to reduce the risk of inflammation response through non-pharmaceutical means by enhancing the cows’ ability to cope with the of low-level stressors. Natural sources of PFA hold the greatest potential to achieve this objective, to improve animal health and welfare, while appealing to society demands for removal of non-therapeutic pharmaceutical use in the food supply. The Digestarom® line of PFAs combines unique blends of bioactive compounds from select herbs and spices suited to different stages of production and application. Digestarom® Dairy has been specifically formulated to provide additional support against stressors throughout lactation and the dry period.
When to use phytogenic feed additives for cows
Phytogenic feed additives can support lactation performance by:
- Enhance feed palatability
- Increasing milk yield and milk solids
- Increasing rumination and VFA absorption
- Improving energy utilization
- Enhancing natural immune resistance against stress factors
Trial results in lactating cows
Comparison of lactation performance of cows less than 60 days in milk (DIM) demonstrated that Digestarom® Dairy boosts energy corrected milk production by over 1.3 kg/d (Fig 2). Better early lactation performance indicates a reduction of the negative energy balance period, which can have positive implications on fertility and peak milk production.
Although great emphasis is placed on the transition period, situations which lead to SARA conditions can occur at any time during lactation. Poor processing of long forages, spoiled feeds, or increases in temperature can result in cows sorting the TMR, and if bunk space is limited or there is undue social pressure, cows may develop “slug feeding” behavior, all of which can increase the risk of developing SARA conditions. Digestarom® Dairy helps to mitigate this risk by increasing rumen motility and chewing, which enhances salvia production that buffers the rumen pH. In a recent research trial, Kröger et al. (2017) demonstrated that under SARA conditions, chewing and rumen activity were severely reduced, however, Digestarom® Dairy help restore rumen motility and chewing behavior thereby reducing the negative impact on rumen pH (Table 1). Moreover, studies have shown that as the pH decreases, the bioactivity of the essential oils, such as antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects, are enhanced (Kröger et al. 2017). This has broader implications as the effects of SARA are not limited to the rumen, SARA conditions can also shift the rumen microbiota, increasing lipopolysaccharides (LPS) from gram -ve bacteria that induce a cascade of reactions leading to an inflammatory response. Inflammatory response not only draws energy away from production, but also increases circulating histamine levels, which have been linked to the development of laminitis and mastitis. Humer et al. (2018) found under induced SARA conditions Digestarom® Dairy reduced LPS levels and associated inflammatory amines such as histamine. By reducing the stress factors, the cow copes better with minor inflammatory irritants and is more capable of mounting a stronger immune response to acute challenges.
Table 1. Changes in rumination and chewing behavior during induced SARA conditions and when supplemented with Digestarom® Dairy during induced SARA conditions. (Adapted from Kröger et al. 2017).
|SARA 1 vs. SARA 1 +|
|Total chewing (min/day)||60% ⬇︎||33% ⬆︎|
Chews per bolus (number)
|Rumen pH < 6.0 (min)||⬇︎||⬆︎|
Optimizing feed efficiency and maintaining lactation persistency are vital towards sustained economic feasibility of today’s modern dairy operations. Obviously, a healthy herd is at their peak efficiency and more capable of handling minor variations throughout the lactation. Digestarom® Dairy contains specific compounds including herbs and essential oils that exhibit bioactive functions and act as homeopathic support for the immune system. With a more robust immune system, the cow handles day to day variation and stress better, mitigating inflammation often exhibited by high somatic cell counts and reducing the risk of developing mastitis. Monitoring of SCC in a high risk herd, Digestarom® Dairy not only demonstrated a general reduction in SCC, but also a rapid recovery as a result of acute stress caused by moldy silage during summer (Fig 3).
Moreover, results from a robot-parlor dairy farm clearly show that with Digestarom® Dairy, milk production and total milk solids of the mid-lactating herd were enhanced, which indicates a stronger, healthier herd (Fig. 4, Fig. 5).
Supporting calf growth for more milk
Producing highly productive dairy cows with good longevity starts with healthy, prosperous calves. Even though producers are aware of this, sickness and losses in calves are still major discussion topics. According to the Dairy Heifer Raiser overview from the USDA (2012), of calves born alive, mortality in pre-weaning heifers was 4.2%. This is consistent with other international surveys that place average preweaning mortalities between 5 to 8%, however, calf mortality in some countries ranges up to 20% (Mee, 2013).
The biggest cause of pre-weaning mortality are digestive disorders and respiratory problems, accounting for 56% and 22% of losses respectively (USDA 2012). Diarrhea incidences are most prominent in the weeks following calving, whereas respiratory diseases emerge after a few weeks and continue post weaning (Fig. 6, Svensson et al. 2003, 2006). Calf disease incidences and losses before weaning not only have a short-term economic impact, but they also influence the future genetic and earning potential of the production unit. Trilk and Münch (2010) estimated that even one pre-weaning disease incidence can reduce lifetime production by 10% and escalating with subsequent disease (Fig. 7).
Good health has a direct link to another economically relevant factor for successful dairy cow production, and that is achieving good growth development to meet fertility milestones. Good health and strong pre-weaning growth can potentially boost milk production in the first lactation. In a study from Cornell University, Van Amburgh et al. (2009) showed that early life events appear to have long-term effects on performance. Meta-Analyses (Soberon and Van Amburgh, 2013; Gelsinger et al. 2017) determined that for every 100 g of additional pre-weaning daily weight gain from milk and starter could result in approximately 136 to155 kg of additional milk yield during the animal's first lactation. This relates to hyperplasia of mammary tissues of calves receiving a higher plane of nutrition during the early suckling phase (Soberon and Van Amburgh, 2017).
Phytogenic feed additive (PFAs or botanicals), such as the Digestarom® line of products formulated for calves, combines unique blends of herbs and essential oils that can be added to milk replacer or starter feed to help calves to achieve and maintain high feed intake, followed by good muscle and skeletal growth, putting them on the path of successful development.
When to use phytogenics for calves
Plant-based substances can support young animals faced with a number of stressors related to:
- Early metabolic programming
- Feed intake and acceptance of solid feeds
- Group housing stress
- Weaning stress and post-weaning diet adaptation
- Environment and housing changes
By adding Digestarom® to the diets of calves, the growth of pathogenic bacteria in the gut is limited, reducing the bacterial challenge faced by the calf. Moreover, Digestarom® directly supports the gastrointestinal tract through its anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidative properties.
The positive effects of Digestarom® in calves have been observed in a number of field and scientific trials in pre-weaning and weaning calves (males and females). A pool analysis of Biomin studies was conducted to evaluate improvements with Digestarom® based. Parameters evaluated for the pool analysis were average daily gain (ADG), average daily feed intake (ADFI) and feed conversion (FCR). Average daily gain was recorded in eleven trials, while ADFI and FCR were recorded in seven trials. Trials for the pool analysis were conducted in the United States and Europe. The performance of calves in the control groups were compared to calves receiving Digestarom® in milk/milk replacer or calf concentrates. The groups receiving milk replacer and/or feed supplemented with Digestarom® were compared to non-medicated milk replacer/feed or to medicated milk replacer/feed. The Control group in the illustrated results (Figures 8 and 9) combines the medicated and non-medicated milk replacer/feed.
Results of the pool analysis showed consistent improvements in ADG, ADFI and FCR when Digestarom® was present (Figure 8 and Figure 9). Average daily gain improved by 75.2 g/d or 8.9% when the diet was supplemented with Digestarom®. Average daily feed intake improved by an average of 86.8 g/d or 5.3%, while fed-out feed was also utilized 4.1% more efficiently (an improvement of 8.7 FCR points) in the presence of Digestarom®. The pool analysis results indicate that there is a direct positive economic benefit when Digestarom® is added to the diet, because of a more efficient transformation of feed into growth performance. When the economic benefits of Digestarom® supplementation in young stock are combined with the conclusions drawn from a meta-regression by Soberon and van Amburgh (2013), Digestarom® supplementation could increase first lactation performance by an additional 116.6 kg (Figure 10).
Feedlot fattening beef
The world’s population is growing and with that the demand for higher quality protein produced in the most efficient, sustainable and economically feasible manner possible. For feedlot operators, the receiver phase is an extremely stressful period for the animals that can determine the success of the entire finishing period. These animals have generally been brought from pasture-based grazing, transported long distances, are now mixed with new animals in a new environment and expected to perform on a new diet upon arrival. Most disease occurs in the first few weeks due to high stress levels and low intake. Getting the animals to eat is the first challenge to over come in any new situation.
When to use phytogenic feed additives for feedlots
- Enhancing feed intake
- Faster adaptation to stressful challenges
- Bolstering gut integrity
- Increasing ADG
- Better feed conversion
Proven higher feed intake
Under field trial conditions, Digestarom® Bos has been demonstrated to ease the stress during this critical stage by helping the animals to readily adapt to the diet and boost daily feed intake.
During a 45- day study, Digestarom® Bos enhanced daily intake in the first week on average by 5 kg, and the Digestarom® Bos group maintained a consistent 2 kg/d advantage until the end (Fig. 11).
For animals acclimatized to the feedlot diets and settings, the focus is on efficiency. Digestarom® Prime can help deliver that extra punch to improve performance and overall economic return. During a 56-day finishing period, fatting animals starting at 320 kg were fed the same diets, either with or without Digestarom® Prime.
Results demonstrated that Digestarom® Prime improved total gain by 8.4% compared to the control (Fig. 10), with an ADG of 1.32 kg/d compared to the control of 1.22 kg/d. Field observations indicated animals fed Digestarom® Prime consumed about 1.5 kg more feed per day. The calculated return on investment of Digestarom® Prime, based on local economics and live weight difference was 34:1.
Not all phytogenic feed additives are equal
In their concentrated forms, these plant-based active ingredients can have profound activities. One of the challenges with new technologies is that not all phytogenic products are either formulated the same or the quality of the raw ingredients are the same.
Distillation processes can have different efficiencies in concentrating key compounds and different raw ingredient sources may have differing concentration of these same compounds. A mark of reliability for any phytogenic product is to have a strong Quality Control (QC) program behind it to insure both consistency and efficacy.
How to choose a phytogenic feed additive
There are a number of factors to consider in the decision to use a PFA, and which one to choose. In the first instance, such a decision will be helped by the availability of sound scientific and commercial evidence.
The scientific understanding of PFAs in livestock continues to progress with the publication of new research findings. However, PFAs as feed additives are available in many different forms and formulations.
Therefore, it is important to consider such evidence that relates to quality control, scientifically standardized formulations and also how a particular study relates to specific livestock sectors and production stage.
- Bradford, B.J., Yaun, K., Farney. J. K., Mamedova, L. K., Carpenter, A. J. 2015. Invited review: Inflammation during the transition to lactation: New adventures with an old flame. Journal of Dairy Science. 98:6631-6650
- Gelsinger, S. L., Heinrichs, A. J., Jones, C. M. 2016. A meta-analysis of the effects of preweaned calf nutrtion and growth on first-lactation performance. Journal of Dairy Science. 99:6206-6214.
- Giannenas, I., Bonos, E., Christaki, E., Florou-Paneri, P. 2013. Essential oils and their applications in animal nutrition. Medicinal and Aromatic Plants. 2:140-152.
- Kröger, I., Humer, E., Neubauer, V., Reisinger, N., Aditya, S., Zebeli, Q. 2017. Modulation of chewing behavior and reticular pH in non-lactating cows challenged with concentrate-rich diets supplemented with phytogenic compounds and autolyzed yeast. Journal of Dairy Science. 100:9702–9714.
- Mee. 2013. Review: Why do so many calves die on modern dairy farms and what can we do about calf welfare in the future. Animals. 3:1036-1057.
- Soberon, F. and Van Amburgh, M.E. (2013). The effects of nutrient intake from milk or milk replacer of preweaned dairy calves on lactation milk yield as adults: A meta-analysis of current data. Journal of Animal Science, 91, pp 706-712.
- Sundrum, A. 2015. Review: Metabolic disorders in the transition period indicates that the dairy cows’ ability to adapt is overstressed. Animals. 5:978-1020.
- Svensson, C., Lundborg, K., Emanuelson, U., Olsson, S-O. 2003. Morbidity in Swedish dairy calves from birth to 90 days of age and individual calf-level risk factors for infectious diseases. Preventive Veterinary Medicine. 58:179-197.
- Svensson, C., Hultgren, J., Oltenacu. P. A. 2006. Morbidity in 3 – 7-month-old dairy calves in south-western Sweden, and risk factors for diarrhoea and respiratory disease. Preventive Veterinary Medicine. 74:162-179.
- USDA. (2012). Dairy Heifer Raiser, 2011: An overview of operations that specialize in raising dairy heifers. 1st ed. [pdf ] Fort Collins: NAHMS APHIS USDA. Available at: www.aphis.usda.gov/animal_health/nahms/dairy/downloads/dairyheifer11/HeiferRaiser.pdf [Accessed 17 Oct. 2017].
- Van Amburgh, M.E., Raffrenato, E., Soberon, F. and Everett, R.W. (2009). Early Life Management and Longterm productivity of Dairy Calves. 1st ed. [pdf ] Ithaca: Department of Animal Science, Cornell University. Available at: dairy.ifas.ufl .edu/ rns/2009/VanAmburgh.pdf [Accessed 17 Oct. 2017].