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6 Feed Additives to Consider for Cattle

A few federal veterinary feed directive (VFD) has stipulated that antibiotics can’t be used in animal feeds without a veterinary prescription. The routine use of feed-grade antibiotics for better cattle performance is over, but there are other tools that can help fill the gap. These feed additives are still available over the counter, which means no direct veterinary prescription is required. 

Do they work as well as feed-grade antibiotics? In some circumstances the answer is yes, says Grant Dewell, beef Extension veterinarian at Iowa State University. Here’s his rundown of options.

1. Ionophores 

Ionophores are another class of antibiotic-like compounds that don’t include medically important drugs for humans. The compounds were not affected by the changes in the VFD status of other feed-grade antibiotics. They increase feed efficiency by improving the fermentation process in the rumen and decrease the risk of acidosis and bloat. Their primary use is for feedlot cattle to improve weight gain and to prevent coccidiosis.

Products: Rumensin and Bovatec

2. Vitamin and mineral packs

These provide essential vitamins and minerals to correct deficiencies in other feed sources. Feedlot performance results are variable and may depend on vitamin and mineral status prior to arrival at the feedlot. If there’s no deficiency to start with, they may not give much benefit.

Calves that are highly stressed from weaning, transportation, or poor conditioning may get an economic benefit from extra vitamin and mineral supplementation. 

Products: 20-10 Plus Mineral and Availa-4

3. Prebiotics  

These feed ingredients are usually a nondigestible starch such as an oligosaccharide. Proponents say they can bind up and flush out harmful pathogens from an animal’s system. Their effect has not been definitive in cattle, as most work has been done in monogastric animals. The complex rumen makes it harder to identify the benefits in cattle. 

The products marketed today for cattle are primarily for improved digestion within the rumen, and they claim to improve feed efficiency in weaned calves.

Products: Bio-Mos and SweetPro

4. Probiotics

These are good bacteria, usually lactic acid bacteria such as lactobacillus, bifidobacterium, and enterococcus. They stabilize intestinal microflora and decrease the risk of pathogenic bacteria. They are used for controlling diarrhea in calves. When fed to feedlot cattle, they may improve feed digestion and decrease the risk of food-safety pathogens.

Products: Probiotic Plus E and Fastrack Probiotic Pack

5. Fermentation 

They improve dry matter intake and weight gain in cattle. How they do it is somewhat unknown. Potentially, either they grow in the rumen and improve the digestion process, or they act like prebiotics and provide substrate for bacteria to grow on. 

There is limited data to show consistent response. Relatively inexpensive, they are in many calf supplements to improve digestion.

Products: XPC and Fermenten

6. Enzymes

These feed additives improve digestion by degrading plant cell walls with enzymes from fungal fermentation. They can give improved feed efficiency. Sometimes they are used in natural-fed cattle where ionophores can’t be used.

Products: Vitalilx and Liquicell AF 

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