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Preventing cattle health issues through proactive nutrition

March 21, 2024
Preventing cattle health issues through proactive nutrition

Health issues can result in significant economic losses for cattle producers. By taking a proactive approach to preventing health problems, producers can reduce monetary loss associated with treating sick animals.

Meeting cattle’s nutritional requirements is the first step. The second step is maintaining a healthy gastrointestinal tract (gut). With 70% of the immune system being located within the gut, it plays a crucial role in animal health. With this knowledge, we can develop proactive supplementation strategies to prevent animal health issues before they become a problem.

Dietary nutrients required to maximize immune health

For an animal to respond properly to an immune challenge, we must meet the nutrient requirements needed for the immune system to function optimally, including dietary protein, energy, vitamins and minerals.

Protein and energy are required in the largest quantities. Protein provides the necessary amino acids needed for production of immune proteins such as cytokines and also antibodies that mediate immune response. Energy is required for every system in the body, but an immune challenge increases energy demand. Therefore, enough dietary protein and energy must be available for the animal to both meet its maintenance requirements and respond to a health issue.

Micronutrients such as copper, zinc, selenium and vitamins E and A are also necessary for proper immune function. They are important components of the antioxidant system, and they are required for enzymes to function properly in the immune system. The forms in which copper, zinc and selenium are supplemented play a role in how well the minerals are utilized. Alltech offers two solutions in the ideal forms for mineral uptake and efficacy:

  • Bioplex® trace minerals, including copper, zinc, manganese, and cobalt, are part of the Alltech mineral management program. Bioplex minerals are trace minerals that are bound to amino acids and a range of peptides. They are easily absorbed and readily metabolized, optimizing immune health and thus improving performance.
  • Sel-Plex® is Alltech’s proprietary organic form of selenium. The selenium in Sel-Plex supports metabolic processes, acts as an antioxidant, supports against infection, and boosts overall immune health.

Benefits of a healthy gut

Much focus has been aimed at maintaining rumen health. Although the rumen of cattle is the main site for microbial fermentation and energy production, the entire digestive tract needs to be considered when discussing gut health.

The small and large intestines contain a single lining of cells protecting the body from infection, and this lining is susceptible to damage when the gut is unhealthy. A healthy microbial ecosystem aids in maintaining the gut lining. In addition to digestion, absorption and production of nutrients, gut microbiota contribute to regulation of energy homeostasis, prevention of mucosal infections and modulation of the immune system. A healthy gut microbial ecosystem and lining will prevent colonization by potentially pathogenic bacteria such as Salmonella, E. coli, Cryptosporidium, Clostridium and coccidia. Preventing damage to the gut lining will prevent pathogenic bacteria, toxins and other harmful substances from entering the bloodstream and the lymphatic system. This reduces the animal’s susceptibility to diseases such as bovine respiratory disease (BRD).

What causes gut damage, and how can it be prevented?

Many factors can compromise gut health. The main ones are associated with periods of stress. This can include illness or injury, weaning, transportation, challenged feedstuffs, weather, feed changes, poor management, and quality of feed and water. In addition, disturbances in gut microbiota can have severe effects on the digestive system, including metabolic disorders such as bloat, ruminal acidosis and scours. These can have profound effects on health.

The right feed additives, supplied in the most effective forms, can make all the difference in protecting gut health. Alltech’s leading-edge research and technology is the basis for the Alltech Gut Health Management program, which includes such solutions as:

  • Bio-Mos 2®, a unique product derived from a select strain of Saccharomyces cerevisiae yeast using Alltech’s proprietary process. Bio-Mos 2 promotes beneficial bacteria and builds natural defenses, helping to build a foundation for performance by reinforcing a healthy gut microbiome without antibiotics at all stages of production.
  • Integral A+® protects animal health, performance and reproduction during feedstuff challenges caused by molds and toxins, which are increasingly common — and increasingly dangerous — due to more extreme weather patterns and changing agricultural practices.


The best way to support animal health and productivity is to be proactive, not reactive. Preventing health problems before they occur starts with providing the nutrients necessary for immune function, in a form the animal can metabolize. This should be followed by supplementation with feed additives that aid in maintaining gut health.

About the author:

Dr. Cadra Krueger is a territory sales manager for Kansas and Colorado at Alltech. In that role, she focuses on all aspects of beef nutrition, from cow/calf production to growing/finishing feedlots, and provides guidance about sales, nutrition and management to help producers and feed mills reach their ultimate production goals.

Cadra has been involved in the cattle industry since she was 10 years old, when she first began raising and showing cattle in 4-H and helping her younger siblings with their show calves. While pursuing her graduate degrees, she managed the Beef Cattle Research Center at Kansas State University. She previously served as a beef nutritionist for Hubbard Feeds before joining the Alltech beef team.

Cadra holds a bachelor's degree in equine science from Colorado State University and master's and doctoral degrees in ruminant nutrition from Kansas State University. In her free time, she enjoys riding horses and spending time with family and friends.

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I want to learn more about nutrition for beef cattle.