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Feeding bioactive metabolites to support high-producing dairy cow performance

Marc-Antoine Guesthier for Progressive Dairyman Published on 31 December 2018

Over the last decade, dairy production, on average, in Canada has been increasing and shows no signs of slowing down. This increase in production, however, brings its share of challenges and often places dairy animals under a lot of stress.

Advances in dairy cattle genetics, improvement in management practices and better nutrition continue to help producers maximize their animals’ performance and reduce their susceptibility toward production challenges.



However, let’s be honest; it’s almost impossible to eliminate 100 percent of these production stresses. Thus, dairies today need new technologies to help them achieve the highest standards of production, efficiency and animal health.

Nutritionally speaking, the rumen is in the centre of a cow’s performance. A healthy rumen will help the cow absorb more nutrients and produce more milk.

Rumen health is affected by numerous factors, and Figure 1 displays only some of the challenges a cow’s rumen faces on a day-to-day basis that can affect digestion performance.

Factors affecting digestion performance

Regardless of your management or genetic program, there are many nutritional strategies available to help improve feed efficiency and stimulate the cow’s immune response. One good example is to include bioactive metabolites (BMs) in your dairy rations.


Bioactive metabolites

BMs are natural compounds familiar to the cow. They are either naturally produced by the animal or naturally present in its nutrition.

Research has shown supplementing additional BMs can accentuate their efficiency and positively affect cow performance.

BMs are simply functional molecules having a beneficial effect on cow metabolism. This is a fancy way to regroup several molecules including antioxidants, polyphenols or organic acids.

It can also include some peptides, specific proteins and oligosaccharides that have also been shown to have a positive impact on cow biology.

These natural products are working in synergy with the cow’s biology to stimulate a balanced response proportional to the challenge the animal might be facing during transition or lactation.

How does it work?

The cow must naturally coordinate the use of its energy to support its basic needs and production requirement.


However, when this coordination is not optimal, the cow can use more energy than necessary, to fuel its immune system, for example.

The immune system can consume a lot of energy when not optimized. When this happens, the extra energy used to support the immune system is not profitable to meet its demands as a high-producing dairy cow.

BMs help to stimulate normal functions of the cow biology by supplying functional molecules that are part of the cow’s normal responses.

For example, supplying more antioxidants will increase the cow’s capacity to cope with oxidative stress. Using specific peptides, known to be involved as signaling molecules in an immune response mechanism, will support animal immune effectiveness.

Some BMs are even known to help the establishment of beneficial bacteria in the rumen of the cow, leading to better rumen health and improved digestion.

These nutritional strategies are like using a fertilizer instead of an herbicide to support plant growth. You support the efficiency of the cow by supplying natural molecules, giving the cow the ability to initiate and manage an appropriate response during any production challenges.

Stable rumen pH

Rumen pH is a good indicator of rumen health and efficiency. Research has shown the use of BMs lead to an important stabilization of rumen pH post-calving.

By working in synergy with the cow’s biology, BMs help select beneficial bacteria that support the digestion of both fibre and lactate in the rumen. Better rumen environment leads to better feed absorption and improved cow efficiency.

Effect of BM on Rumen pH

Increased volatile fatty acid production

By improving rumen environment, more energy can be absorbed by the cow. This additional energy is essential to support the high-producing cow’s biological needs.

By supplementing BMs in the diet, research has shown it is also possible to optimize production of volatile fatty acids, a major source of energy for cows. This increase in energy availability helps cows meet their high energy requirements.

Energy partitioning is crucial in high-producing animals. BMs not only help produce more energy using the same input, it also supports a better repartition of that energy.

By providing animals effective metabolites that help fuel their immune system, more energy remains available for milk production.

Effect of BM on volatile fatty acid production

Increased performance

The effect of BMs has been directly observed in milk production performance. By including BMs in dairy cow diets, research has shown a positive impact on milk yield.

As shown in Table 1, milk production of cows fed BMs (NutriTek, Diamond V, Cedar Rapids, Iowa) increased by 3.5 litres per cow per day compared to cows fed a control diet.

Effect of commercial bioactive metabolite on milk yield from 35-110 DIM

This important increase in milk production can be explained first by an improvement in rumen health leading to better feed efficiency, as well as more efficient energy partitioning that made more energy available for milk production.


BMs are an efficient way to support a cow’s normal biological functions. The use of BMs has shown potential to support and improve animal performance.

Research is now focusing on using this technology to stimulate the immune response of the cow and counteract certain health-related challenges during production.

The use of these natural products as nutritional additives in dairy rations might represent a possible nutritional solution to reduce the need of antibiotics in modern animal production and better support the biology of high-producing dairy animals. end mark

References omitted but are available upon request. Click here to email an editor. 

Marc-Antoine Guesthier
  • Marc-Antoine Guesthier

  • Dairy Technology Development Specialist
  • Cargill/Purina
  • Email Marc-Antoine Guesthier