by George Looby, DVM         
The control and management of calf scours has been a problem in cattle operations since the beginning of the modern era of dairy husbandry. For the purposes of this report this dates back to the early years of the last century. The newborn dairy calf has long been recognized a candidate for scours and despite advances in management and treatment it remains with us.
With the advent of antibiotics, treatment has relied heavily on their use with reasonably good results but recent mandated changes have sent many searching for alternatives. The often-cited FDA mandate, which went into effect on Jan. 1, 2018, prohibits the use of antibiotics in food producing animals without a written prescription from a licensed veterinarian. One of the alternatives suggested is the use of probiotics in very young calves as an aid in controlling this condition.
Probiotics have been used in the human family for many years for the treatment of a variety of gastrointestinal conditions. In many instances they are taken by healthy individuals with the idea that they may act as aid in the promotion of good G.I. health.
Probiotics are mostly bacteria with some yeast thrown into the mix. It is important to remember that not all bacteria are bad and as is the case with probiotics they tend to be beneficial. The intestinal tract of all animals contains millions if not billions of bacteria, most of them doing the job of fostering and promoting good health. Two common groups that receive a lot of attention are Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium. Within each group are many species and within each species are many strains. Each of these strains is capable of carrying out a function that it alone seems to accomplish the best.
In humans and in other animals the sum total of all of the organisms found in the bowel, especially the lower bowel or colon, collectively are called the gut flora. The gut flora is mostly composed of bacteria along with yeasts and viruses. Their function is to perform a variety of tasks. Among other things they manufacture some vitamins including Vitamin K and some of the B vitamins. They turn fibers into short chain fats which feed the gut wall and perform many gut functions.
In the human family, when an individual is placed on antibiotics for any kind of bacterial infection, the normal bacterial flora in that individuals gut may be killed by the treatment, giving rise to a variety of G.I. problems. Treatment with probiotics in these situations may help resolve the G.I. symptoms that arise as a result of the antibiotic therapy.
If the treatment of calfhood diarrhea with antibiotics is no longer legally allowed without the intervention of a veterinarian, perhaps probiotics could act in some way to aid in alleviating the symptoms, reasoned John Kallassy, CEO of Bactana.
Bactana is a company founded to develop and produce “super probiotic” strains of bacteria designed to promote growth in new born calves and other livestock as an alternative to hormones and antibiotics. Kallassy was previously CEO for Jaguar Health, a San Francisco Co. whose products included a dehydration preventative for calves. He now lives in New Canaan, CT, collaborating with his Chief Scientific Officer Rodrigo Bicalho and his coworkers at the Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine, which has a location in Stamford, CT and is licensing the technology to Bactana.
With $400,000 in funding from the state’s Connecticut Innovations Venture Fund, Bactana will enter the UConn Technology Incubation Program in Farmington. The Connecticut Innovation Venture Fund is a venture capital firm. It seeks to invest in nonprofit organizations, colleges and universities, business research collaborations, bioscience startups, and biotech companies in need of lab and office.
The UConn Entrepreneurship and Innovation Consortium oversees the Technology Incubation Program (TIP). TIP provides unsurpassed value to high tech startups and spin-offs by providing wet and dry labs, offices and co-working spaces in Storrs, Farmington and Avery Point. It provides access to instrumentation, research services and collaboration with scientific experts. TIP also provides customized business planning and mentoring services to help prepare their companies for their fundraising and sales pitches.
Workers at Cornell chose to use a live culture of an organism called Faecalibacterium prausnitzii as its trial bug to determine if administering it to newborn calves might have any kind of beneficial result in reducing the incidence of calf scours in that group. One of the reasons for choosing this particular organism is that it is found in the intestinal tract of a number of animals, including man, under normal conditions.
The first objective of the trial was to determine the safety of the material being used both orally and rectally. The second objective was to evaluate the effects of oral administration on pre-weaned calves survivability, the incidence of severe diarrhea and weight gain.
A group of 30 bull calves were evaluated as to the effects of the selected organism on their overall health. The group was divided in half, 15 receiving the solution orally and the other half rectally. The latter method proved to be inefficient and was abandoned for the larger trial. No ill effects were noted in those calves that received the dose orally.
In a much larger trial, 554 Holstein calves, belonging to a large commercial dairy were divided into two groups, one half was treated while the other half was not. All animals were treated the same except the treated animals received two oral doses of F. prausnitzil one week apart early in life. The group conducting the trial found that the treated group had a significantly lower incidence of severe diarrhea as compared to the untreated group. The treated group had a significantly lower mortality rate than the untreated group and the rate of gain was also better than the untreated group.
It would appear that, based on the information currently available, the use of naturally occurring products may hold the answer to the control of one of the more troublesome problems facing newborn calves and their owners. As this and similar products become commercially available it will soon become apparent if it will become an essential part of calf rearing.