Improving profitability and resilience of calves (part 2)

Diarrhea’s morbidity rate, which reflects the number of sick calves amongst the total group, is quite high in farms: Did you know that more than 1 out of 2 calves having at least one bout of sickness before weaning is affected by diarrhea? Read more in this part 2…

Diarrhea’s morbidity rate, which reflects the number of sick calves amongst the total group, is quite high in farms: more than 1 out of 2 calves having at least one bout of sickness before weaning is affected by diarrhea.

It is the first cause of mortality, accounting for half of the observed dead heifers before weaning, and 3 out of 4 deadly cases happen within the first month of age. Even if all the cases don’t lead to the death of the animals, it has a negative impact on the later health and performance (of the animal, and on the economic performance of the farm since it increases rearing costs by 95€ on average compared to healthy animals. Figure 1 shows that the most critical period for diarrhea cases, wherever they originate from, happens within the first weeks of life.

Calf pneumonia of BRD is a complex, multi-factorial disease...

...which results in inflammation and damage to the tissues of the lungs and respiratory tract. It is the most common reason for poor performance and death in growing calves, as shown on Figure 2. The effect of BRD in heifer calves include decreased rate of gain, a higher culling risk, delayed age at first service, delayed age at first calving and in some cases, lower future milk production. The cost of raising a heifer with one or more recorded cases of BRD during the first 120 days exceeded those for healthy heifers by $212 to $237, depending on whether anticipated milk-production differences are considered.

Careful calves’ management and strict hygiene rules are an important factor in the fight against outbreaks from the first hours of life on:

  • Clean calving pen and navel disinfection,
  • Avoiding contact between the calf and its dam, as she is the main contaminating source
  • Proper colostrum management in order to insure sufficient immunity transfer
  • Grouping of the calves by age, to avoid contamination of the young ones by the older
  • Adapted housing conditions: volume per animal depending on age, individual pen or collective pen, air flux and quality, light…
  • Adequate feeding management: milk distribution (quantity and temperature), solid feed, clean water available
  • Prophylaxis: vaccination

How can phytogenics help?

On top of these good practices, specifically formulated phytogenic additives can become a first-choice to increase the resilience of the calves, helping them facing/overcoming challenges. Actifor® Protect is a selected blend of different plant extracts designed to improve palatability and feed intake. Furthermore, trials have shown additional benefits indicating to support the gut and the respiratory system in challenging times through a broad mode of action. The mode of action supports:

  • Enhanced palatability and stimulated feed intake
  • The maintenance of the respiratory tract’s physical conditions observed in reduced coughing scores and less respiratory treatments
  • Improved fecal score indicating an improved resilience of the gut
  • Improved performance and efficiency

Phytogenics: improving calves’ resilience to diseases

Tested in research facility as well as in field conditions, Actifor® Protect has led to the  significant improvement of health parameters such as coughing and fecal score according to McGuirk’s scoring (-30% and -23% respectively), a better resilience (higher antioxidant status, lower inflammation), a reduction of respiratory treatments and the increase of growth indicators (+7% average daily gain, -4.5% feed conversion ratio), as shown in Figure 3.

Actifor® Protect can be included in the calf milk replacer and the solid feed for young ruminants, with specific recommendations for dairy and veal calves, kid goats and lambs.


To realize the potential of calves, focus must be given to proper calf management during rearing. Good management can be complemented with selected phytogenic feed additives such as Actifor® Protect to ensure feed intake and good growth rates along with a support of the gut and the respiratory system.

References upon request

Delphine Lacombe

Delphine Lacombe

Delphine Lacombe has joined Delacon in April 2018, as Customer Technical Manager for the ruminant team. She is an agronomist engineer, graduated from Agrocampus Ouest in France, and started working as dairy nutritionist for a feedmill. For the past 10 years, Delphine has been working within animal nutrition industry, mainly in the feed additive business. At the moment, she is responsible for the technical support of the EE and Latam regions.

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