E. coli bacteria / Image: CDC Image Library

Sour milk product to combat diarrhea in calves and increase animal welfare

Tuesday 22 Oct 19

A research project headed by the National Food Institute, Technical University of Denmark, aims to develop a sour milk product that can prevent diarrhea in calves. This can lead to a lower mortality rate and a reduction in the use of antimicrobials as well as increased animal welfare.

Diarrhea in calves is a widespread problem in many of Denmark’s approximately 2,500 dairy herds, which negatively influences animal welfare and causes farmers financial losses. This is in part due to a higher mortality, the need for medical treatment and reduced weight gain compared to healthy animals. 

A new research project, CalfCare, aims to control two important enteropathogens in calves: E. coli 99, which is the primary cause of diarrhea, and Salmonella Dublin, which causes diarrhea in calves and can lead to fatal infections in humans.

Many benefits to be gained

The research project aims to develop a sour milk product feed for calves, which is fermented by special lactic acid bacteria that cut milk proteins into small components, which can inhibit or reduce the ability of E. coli 99 and Salmonella Dublin to cause disease.

The ambition is to develop a fermentation tank system and a starter culture that can provide the farmers with a financially viable way of producing the product on their own farms. 

"Many benefits can be gained from reduced incidence of diarrhea, such as decreased use of antimicrobials, lower mortality rates, increased animal welfare and financial gains."
Senior researcher Søren Aabo

Many benefits can be gained from reduced incidence of diarrhea, such as decreased use of antimicrobials, lower mortality rates, increased animal welfare and financial gains. Among the calves that get sick and die in the first months of life the cause is often diarrhea due to E. coli K99,” Senior Researcher Søren Aabo from the National Food Institute explains.

A lower incidence of diarrhea will also increase the sustainability of the dairy production through better feed utilization and lower emissions of nitrogen, phosphorus and C02.

The GUDP (Green Development and Demonstration Programme) has granted almost 6.5 million Danish kroner to the project. The National Food Institute is project lead.

New idea builds on existing knowledge

The ability of lactic acid bacteria to support gut health is well-documented. However, it is—as far as the researchers are aware—the first time that the special type of lactic acid bacteria are combined in strain-cocktails of the most effective bacteria and that they are used outside of the laboratory.

In the project, calves less than eight weeks old from four different herds will be fed the specially designed sour milk product in order to study the diarrhea-inhibiting effect as well as the effect on production parameters. In each herd, test and control groups will be established. Later in the project, the project participants will develop and test a fermentation equipment prototype in one herd.

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The project partners in the 30-month-long research project are: The National Food Institute, the University of Copenhagen, Thise Dairy, Calvex (distributor of equipment and feed for calves) and the Danish Agriculture and Food Council’s knowledge and innovation centre, SEGES.

The effort of The National Food Institute to develop a more sustainable dairy production aims at both organic and conventional production, and support the UN Sustainable Development Goal of ensuring more sustainable consumption and production patterns.

27 NOVEMBER 2021