Maintaining Digestive Health in Beef and Dairy Cattle

Due to industry demands, producers have been asked to change the way they raise production animals by reducing antibiotic usage. In order to maintain feed efficiency, growth rate and production standards, producers now seek to understand ways to maintain digestive health in dairy and beef cattle.

Historically, the gastrointestinal (GI) tract, or gut, was considered to be organs equipped solely for the digestion and absorption of nutrients. The gut harbors the largest population of immune cells in the body, including the commensal bacteria, which outnumbers all host cells.1 There is a general consensus that the impacts of gut health and performance in livestock are directly related to optimal performance. Understanding the interactions between these interrelated components of the gut is what cumulatively makes the gut the basis for the health and productivity of beef and dairy cattle.

Components of Gut Health

Figure 1. Gut health components

Key Components of Gut Health

  • Diet
  • Immune system
  • Microflora
  • Intestinal integrity

How Diet Effects the Gut Health and Immunity of Cattle

The large number of bacterial cells lining the gut and their complex interplays makes the gut the most important organ for animal health and performance. When it's working properly, the gut helps cattle maintain a balance in their physiological functions and immune responses. However, feeding a diet that fails to provide adequate amounts of essential nutrients will immune-compromise the animal.

Up to 70 percent of the immune response resides in the gastrointestinal tract, so the cow with a healthier gut will be able to help fight off an infection more efficiently.2 To prevent the need for stimulation of the immune system, which may result in the animal's growth potential being reduced, products like CLOSTAT® Active Microbial can be added to encourage the gut health of cattle.

Besides poor diet, other management and environmental factors can compromise gut health in beef and dairy cattle. Included in those are:

Hindrances to Gut Health in Cattle

  • Infections
  • Weaning
  • Molds and mycotoxins in feed
  • Heat stress
  • Transportation
  • Rapid transition to fermented feeds

Figure 2. Factors compromising gut health

Maintenance of a Stable and Favorable Microflora

Another key factor in the development and preservation of the gut health and immunity of cattle is the natural microbial composition. The intestinal microbiota contributes to several physiological functions such as digestion and absorption, regulation of energy homeostasis, prevention of mucosal infections and modulation of the immune system. The GI tract microbiota prevents colonization by potentially pathogenic microorganisms, provides energy for the GI tract wall from undigested nutrients and regulates the mucosal immune system by means of immune stimulators.


Figure 3. Intestinal villi with microflora

Maintenance of a Healthy and Functional Gut Barrier

Unlike the rumen, the gut is lined by a single layer of epithelial cells that serve to facilitate digestion and absorption of nutrients, while acting as a barrier to invading microorganisms, toxins and dietary antigens. Therefore, optimal intestinal barrier function is paramount to optimizing gut health in your calves and heifers. Tight junction proteins are one of the key components of regulating intestinal permeability. These tight junctions are crucial for the integrity of the epithelial barrier and the separation of these tight junctions leads to the breakdown of the intestinal barrier (e.g., leaky gut), allowing for harmful molecules and compounds to pass through.

Kemin Gut Health Solutions for Cattle

Kemin knows the impact of gut health on performance of livestock is essential for beef and dairy cattle production. As antibiotics are being phased out of livestock production, cost-effective, non-antibiotic strategies must be developed to meet the consumer demands for more environmentally friendly animal production, while also supporting the world's need for more animal protein.1 That's why Kemin dedicates an entire department to animal nutrition and health. By offering a comprehensive platform of industry-leading solutions for livestock, poultry and equine, Kemin works every day to provide researched, nutritional solutions to raising healthy animals for our global food supply.



1Modulation of Gut Health in Beef and Dairy Cattle. Dr. Clint Krehbiel and Guolong Zhang. Oklahoma State University. 2016. Used with permission.

2The common denominator: Leaky gut syndrome. Keilli Boylen. Progressive Dairyman. Published Sept. 30, 2016.

3Celi, Pietro. The growing importance of defining gut "health" in animal nutrition and health. J. Anim. Sci. Vol. 94, E-Suppl. 5/J. Dairy Sci. Vol. 99, E-Suppl. 1. 2016.