Study finds benefits of supporting dairy cattle immune function

6/21/2014 7:00 AM

Randy Myers

OsbornBarr Director

It’s been well-established that a properly functioning immune system plays a key role in supporting health and productivity in dairy cattle. That fact has been further demonstrated in an ongoing field study project conducted on 427 dairies throughout the United States, of which nearly 70 percent are located in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic regions.

The project, known as the Immunity Challenge, enables dairy producers, veterinarians and nutritionists to evaluate the benefits of including an immune-supporting nutritional supplement in dry and lactating cow diets. The multi-year study has been conducted by Illinois-based Prince Agri Products Inc., which produces nutritional specialty products for dairy cattle and other production animals.

Prince dairy technical specialist Ken Brubaker, based in Brewerton, N.Y., said that dairy cows face multiple sources of year-round stress that can weaken their immune system, making them more susceptible to diseases and infections. Stress factors, he said, can include the demands of pregnancy and calving, the onset of lactation, rapid weather changes, unexpected feed- quality problems, cow comfort issues, and potential pathogen challenges.

The Immunity Challenge involves adding Prince’s nutritional specialty product, OmniGen-AF, to cow diets for 90 days, then measuring changes in their health and milk production as compared to the 90-day period prior to the start of the study.

N.Y. dairy experiences improved cow health and production

One of the study participants was Adirondack Farms, a 2,300-cow operation located in Peru, N.Y. Dairy partner Jake Swyers said he decided to participate in the study in 2012 because his cows were experiencing some health problems believed to be linked to feed-quality issues.

After participating for 90 days, the dairy experienced a 48 percent reduction in metritis cases, 40 percent fewer cases of displaced abomasums and a drop in the somatic cell count, from 220,000 to 164,667 cells per milliliter. Since then, SCC has dropped further to the current level of 140,000.

Swyers says Adirondack Farms continues to include OmniGen-AF in all lactating and dry cow diets on a year-round basis. That, he says, combined with improved forage, facility enhancements and other management practices, have helped to maintain positive herd health and high production on the operation.

“Our cows are healthy and production continues to be very good month to month, averaging in the high 90s in pounds of milk per cow per day,” he said. “We know that supporting a strong immune system is a key part of the whole process.”

“Adirondack Farms is a progressive dairy that is always challenging themselves to get to the next level of efficiency and profitability with their dairy herd,” said Prince’s Ken Brubaker. “They understand that healthy animals are an important part of achieving the profit potential in their herd. I have enjoyed working with Jake and the management team at Adirondack Farms as they reach new plateaus in herd performance and then set the bar another notch higher.”

Immunity Challenge <\n>national results

Nationally, the research project has included herd sizes ranging from 38 to 6,700 milking cows, totaling nearly 274,000 cows. Combined results from all 427 dairies from 2007 through 2012 showed nearly 14 percent fewer mastitis cases per month, a 20 percent reduction in retained fetal membrane cases, almost 23 percent fewer metritis cases as a percentage of fresh cows, a nearly 17 percent decline in the number of cows delivered to the hospital pen and a 23 percent reduction in total herd death loss.

Nearly three-fourths of the herds summarized reported a drop in bulk tank SCC of just more than 50,000. The majority were 300,000 SCC or less prior to starting the program.

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