Probiotics: Driving innovation to enhance calf milk replacer products

How Land O'Lakes is using probiotics to help calves reach their full potential

Man With Calf

Bacteria. For many of us, the word has a negative connotation. But bacteria come in many forms and, while some can be harmful, others are beneficial. In fact, bacteria play a crucial role in gut health.

Google "gut health" and you'll be bombarded with studies, diet plans and scholarly articles that explain the benefits of having a healthy gut microbiome. The gut, sometimes referred to as the gut microbiome, is home to trillions of microorganisms, aka “bugs,” including fungi, viruses and bacteria. A properly balanced gut microbiome supports the body’s immune and digestive systems. Boiled down to layman’s terms, a healthy gut means you’re less susceptible to getting sick. In two words – that’s science!

The benefits of having a healthy gut microbiome are abundant when it comes to humans. But does this also translate to dairy calves?

Land O'Lakes Animal Milk Products (LOL AMP), a division focused on developing and manufacturing milk replacers, started research to answer this question more than three years ago. Land O’Lakes invented calf milk replacer in 1951 and, since then, we have educated producers on the importance of proper calf nutrition and have continually brought innovative calf milk solutions to market. So why not be the ones to continue paving the way?

Probiotics, bacillus, the microbiome: The down and dirty of the good bugs in the gut.

A calf’s gut microbiome includes close to 13 trillion microorganisms, aka “bugs,” including bacteria, fungi and viruses. A bacillus, pronounced (bass-ill-us), aka “active microbial,” is a type of probiotic. LOL AMP focused its research efforts on an exclusive bacillus specifically developed for use in milk replacer.

In 2016, Land O'Lakes researchers began studying the effects that this specific bacillus has on a calf's gut. This active microbial was fed to calves via calf milk replacer which is a calf’s primary source of nutrition from birth to 6-8 weeks of age.

"We knew from initial data and lab work that this particular bacillus seemed to support the microbiome unlike other forms,” says Dr. Tom Earleywine, Director of Nutritional Services for Land O’Lakes Animal Milk Products. "You figure that out and go, oh that’s cool, but what does it mean and what can we do with it?"

Scientists at the Land O’Lakes Calf Milk Research Center in Missouri ultimately performed multiple research trials with more than 560 calves over the course of three years. The trials were meant to gain an understanding of how these probiotics would affect the gut health and overall performance of a young calf. "It takes extensive research in proving value, so it took time." said Dr. Earleywine.

After seeing the research results, the LOL AMP team got to work on enhancing two of its top performing calf milk replacers, LAND O LAKES® Cow’s Match® and Amplifier® Max, to include this exclusive active microbial.

Jenny Djupedal, associate marketing manager for Land O’Lakes Animal Milk Products, helped lead the marketing efforts for this project.

"There is a renewed interest in using nutrition to influence health.” Says Jenny.” These enhanced calf milk replacers do just that. The inclusion of the probiotic in the milk replacer enhances the calf’s microbiome which, in turn, supports the immune system and helps the calf address health challenges.”

Beyond the benefit to the calf, these products can simplify the feeding process for farmers.

"We found that many producers were adding probiotics into their milk replacer separately. With our enhanced Cow’s Match® and Amplifier® Max milk replacers, we're eliminating a step in the feeding process,” says Djupedal. "The active microbial will already be in the milk replacer.”

In anticipation of the upcoming launch in November when these products will be available for purchase, the Land O’Lakes Animal Milk Products and Purina sales teams are actively promoting these enhanced milk replacers and sharing the science-backed benefits these products provide to both calf and farmer. It takes a collaborative team effort to provide innovative products that unlock the full potential of every animal for a healthier, more productive life.

The Land O’Lakes Animal Milk Products (LOL AMP) team manufactures all milk replacer products distributed through Purina Animal Nutrition. The LOL AMP Technical Calf Nutrition & Business Managers work with Purina’s Calf & Heifer Specialists, Sales Specialists, Livestock Production Specialists and Area Sales Managers to deliver innovative and research-proven milk replacer products as well as calf management services to our members, customers and prospects.