Angus at Work

Cattle Nutrition – Vital to Immune System

April 13, 2022 Angus Beef Bulletin Season 1 Episode 6
Angus at Work
Cattle Nutrition – Vital to Immune System
Show Notes Transcript

More time spent preventing disease could lead to less time and money treating it. Ron Scott, Purina Animal Nutrition, joins us on the podcast to talk immunity and ways that your cattle nutritional strategy could double as an animal health game plan.

 

Enjoyed the podcast? Get more by reading, “Feed the Immune System,” in the Angus Beef Bulletin here: https://bit.ly/FeedImmunity.

Check out the article, "Cattle Health Starts With Nutrition" in the Angus Beef Bulletin EXTRA here: https://bit.ly/EXTRAscott.

Welcome to Angus at Work. I’m your host, Miranda Reiman.

 Immunity. It’s a topic I’ve written a lot about over the years — ways to build immunity through vaccinations, management strategies or even the growing evidence of genetic links to it. Immunity helps us in all the ways…profitability…labor…even final carcass quality. So when I heard Dr. Ron Scott speaking at the Cattle Industry Convention earlier this year about the connections between nutrition and immunity, I thought of all the cattle producers in my life and said to myself, “I bet they’d like to hear this, too.” I caught up with Dr. Scott afterwards and I hope you learn as much from this conversation as I did.


Miranda Reiman:
 Ron, thanks for joining us today.
 
 Ron Scott:
 Oh, you're very welcome. Just glad to be here.
 
 Miranda Reiman:
 And Ron, first off, just tell me a little bit about your position and who you're with.
 
 Ron Scott:
 I work with Purina Animal Nutrition, actually celebrating my 30th year, so been around for a long time. And my role today is I'm the lead for us for research and technical services. So not only just a matter of maintaining our products that we have — we have a whole team with that — but also what do we need to create to help the industry to grow?
 
 Miranda Reiman:
 So the topic today was on immunity and that's something that I would say we'd often think of people maybe the animal health business talking about. Give me a clue as to why nutrition factors into that conversation.
 
 Ron Scott:
 Yeah, so many years ago we didn't really make a good connection between nutrition and health or immunity. We knew and everybody knows that if cattle are mistreated, mismanaged or for whatever reason something happens, where they're behind on nutrition, then oh my goodness, then the calf can get sick. So everybody knew that, but today we know so much more. The reason why is that there's a lot of information that's come out, particularly the past 10 years, relative to some functioning of the gut and how that influences the whole immune process.
 
 Miranda Reiman:
 Let's dig into that, the functioning of the gut just a little bit more. It's more than just how it impacts it directly, but there's also some messages being sent and some other things going on in the gut that maybe we wouldn't have thought about.
 
 Ron Scott:
 You bet. So it's one of those little known facts of trivia that the gut is the largest immune organ that we have. And you think, well, how on earth can that be? Well, if you look at cattle, we know they have a rumen, but after the rumen, you’ve got a small intestine, large intestine, so you can call them all that. The importance of that is that this gut prevents pathogens from getting into your body, right? So if you eat something, if it's indigestible, doesn't really enter in your body, it's in your gut, but it comes all the way out. When you absorb something and it gets in your body, unfortunately there can be damage to the lining of the gut, whether it be the rumen or down in the smaller tract where there's a leak, right?
 
 Ron Scott:
 And so it's called a leaky gut. When that occurs, then pathogens, toxins, et cetera, well, they can enter into the bloodstream. They're absorbed and then your body has a reaction to it. It's the same with people. Same with cattle when you have this reaction, so you've got a leaky gut, the first line of defense is your, what's called innate immune system, but you'll have an inflammation response. So some cattle that have a leaky gut constantly, which means there's perforations throughout. Oh my goodness, it's tough for them because they've got constant inflammation. So if you are constantly under that stress, well, guess what? Then your nutrients are going towards maintenance instead of growth, instead of production. And because of that, that's why it's important that we need to tell the story and talk about how can we remedy that.
 
 Miranda Reiman:
 So it's not just that they could get sick, it's that you're going to have some other impacts as well.
 
 Ron Scott:
 Yeah, no doubt. So you’ve got two things going on. We want to make sure that cattle are healthy and can thrive. We don't want them to get sick. And obviously we don't want a mortality. So the key thing is how can we figure out, how can I make a better gut? How can I help cattle to fight off whatever pathogens are there on their own? And then how can I get them to perform better? And you tie that all together. It's a big chore. It really is.
 
 Miranda Reiman:
 So for thinking that nutrition can make an impact on this. When does that start?
 
 Ron Scott:
 Yeah. So it really starts shortly after conception, right? So there's something we've talked about for many years called fetal programming. We used to call it an idea. It's not an idea, this is what happens. So when an animal, whether it be a person or cattle, when they're in utero, there's a whole cascade of events that occur for that developing calf, right? You’ve got the different trimesters and each trimester is important, but the first trimester is the one where you got the beginning of what's called our innate immune system, which is how we respond to an infection when it first comes in. It's our first line of defense. And that's literally created there in that beginning of it in that first trimester. Then the whole cascade of events continues through the entire gestation period. So any compromising stress on the cow during that time period, it will literally compromise the health and well-being of that calf. Not just when it's born, but its entire life and it's a big deal. It really is.
 
Miranda Reiman:
And then you also have the factor of that cow towards the very end of gestation making her colostrum. So let's talk about that impact on immunity.
 
Ron Scott:
You bet. So another type of immunity, we just talked about innate immunity, another type of immunity is called passive immunity. That's the immunity that you get from colostrum. So in colostrum is protein, some little bit of milk, sugar, lactose free fatty acids, and also immunoglobulins, which are antibodies. So when a calf's born, their gut wall is wider and it can take in or absorb these bigger, there's actually bigger molecules. There's a window for colostrum and I think everybody's probably heard that, but what people don't know is that the manufacturing of colostrum by the cow doesn't occur overnight. So it doesn't just go, “okay, here's colostrum.” It takes a good month for that process to occur.
 
Ron Scott:
So many years ago, 30 years ago, one common thing for cattle producers was to reduce the amount of nutrition going to their cows like the last 30 days or so cause they didn't want their calves to get too big. Well, what we're doing is messing with colostrum and survivability of the calf. So today with fetal programming and some knowledge like that, we realized the last thing I want to do is to short my cows during gestation, but particularly that last month, because you're getting colostrum ready and you're finalizing the whole immune system and lungs and all that for that unborn calf. So that's a critical time period. Colostrum is something that's vital and we want to help the cow to make the best quality colostrum that you can.
 
Miranda Reiman:
One thing that I thought was interesting that you talked about, if there's cows coming off some of those drought-stricken pastures and things like that, they might provide a case study of kind of how this plays out in real life. If you've had somebody that's been maybe nutritionally compromised up to this point. So we know that fetal programming's already happened and they've already gotten in their colostrum. Are there things that you can do even after they’re born?
 
Ron Scott:
Nobody really knows who to keep or cull if you're coming out of a drought. Calves obviously, sometimes don't look good, bad hair coat, but genetically they might actually be not terrible. In other words, it's newer genetics compared to cows that may be eight years old if you're trying to keep replacements, but they are compromised. They're probably not going to perform as well as they would under normal conditions. So I mean, it's very tough to try to figure out who to keep, who not to keep. And then you have to figure out, oh my goodness, I'm coming out of drought, these cows don't look good. I've maybe had to send some to another part of the country to feed them. Those are tough decisions.
 
Ron Scott:
And guess what, well there might be another drought next year. Right? So it's tough. The one thing that we know is that if we are restricting nutrition on the cow, and if they're compromised in nutrition after they're born, the cows don't produce as much milk. Well, weaning weights will suffer and there will be some heifers if you're keeping heifers or steers that will do better than the other ones. That's a lot to do with fetal programming, lifetime of that cow, but also milk production. Some cows produce more milk than others and those low producing cows, they won't produce as much milk and those calves won't be as big. And so they'd be the candidates that you get rid of.
 
Miranda Reiman:
Sure. So we've been talking about it fairly generally here about good nutrition. Are we talking certain calorie kind of energy, are we talking specific vitamins and minerals? What are the things that a producer can focus on?
 
Ron Scott:
You bet. So the under, I almost said the underwhelming, the overwhelming opposite. The most important thing is just what I call traditional nutrition, protein, energy, vitamins, and minerals. And we monitor cow body condition throughout the year in the barometer of your nutrition program is body condition, right? We want to have the cows in uniform body condition. If they're losing weight, losing body condition during gestation —  well, that's affecting that unborn calf. So those are the big ones.
 
Ron Scott:
I think sometimes people overlook vitamin and mineral nutrition. And the reason why I say that is in some cases, cows can actually be in halfway decent shape. You don't know you have a problem and maybe vitamin mineral nutrition is borderline. You don't know it. So you're not focusing on it. Well, guess what, it's vital for that development of that fetus. So we've got some new data with North Dakota State looking at the effects of first trimester nutrition with minerals — vitamins and minerals. And it's a big deal.
 
Ron Scott:
Particularly thinking about seedstock producers and what you're going to produce. But if you're a commercial cattleman, my goodness, that's your livelihood too. But you've got all these commercial heifers that you want to start bringing in as replacements. So you want to build a good foundation. This primary traditional nutrition — those are the big four you don't want to overlook. So along with the vaccination program, deworming, and those help this whole whole immune response.
 
Miranda Reiman:
One thing that I think is fascinating is how much this whole topic has changed. Even in my 15 years in the business, like you mentioned, the fetal programming was kind of just a new thing we were talking about and now we know it's fact, et cetera. What are some areas where you see potential research and maybe eventually product lines or things developed to help producers?
 
Ron Scott:
Oh, you bet. So there's an area that we call nutritional additives. We've been working in this area for a few years. Some other companies have too, obviously. What we found is that there's specific prebiotics, probiotics, plant extracts. So the plants that have different colors, but there are different compounds in those plants providing the different colors. You know, they’ve got blueberries, grapes. There's compounds in there that give them that color, but also has a, I don't want to say a pharmacological, but a purpose in the body. It actually will do different things. So that's one reason why on the human side, you hear them talk about, well, you need to have kind of a balanced diet, eat a little bit of this and that. Well, there's actually a bit of truth to that. Not that there's never truth in stuff, but there's some truth to that simply because there are these different compounds that do different things.
 
Ron Scott:
There are different levels of antioxidants and different types of antioxidants. Some of these compounds help to reduce inflammation, fight cancer. So those are things in the concepts that we're taking and screening on the animal side, particularly in cattle and trying to find the things that are going to do a good job of stimulating the innate immune system. So it’s how your white blood cells function to get them primed when a challenge might occur like a leaky gut or something like that, or even a respiratory challenge.
 
Ron Scott:
So those things are very real. I tell folks 20, 30 years ago they were real. It's just that the ability to do the research to be able to finetune some of the things that you had put in the diet. Now we can do a lot. It's an exciting time to be able to help the industry with this whole challenge that we've had with respiratory challenges, for example. And that's a battle that's gone on my entire career and still here. So I think there's some hope for us.
 
Miranda Reiman:
That's a great point. That's one of the areas that we talk about we've made so much improvement in the quality grade. We've made so much improvement in efficiency. Gosh, darn it. If that health data isn't just showing kind of steady to not really making any improvement.
 
Ron Scott:
You know, that's right. So one of the big things that I talk to people about is over time we really haven't had much improvement in morbidity and mortality across the industry. And part of that is kind of unknown. Well, what's going on? Nobody knows for sure, because we have better communication, we should have better feeding programs, management. There's background programs that take care of that, vaccination programs. So it seems like we're doing things right, but in general, the results aren't there. So what else is going on? Well, you’ve got the environment changes over time. The thing that I've told people is one big thing that's changed during my career is the size of cows. I mean, if you look at the carcass weights in the industry that continue to rise, it's linear. Well, along with that, our cow herd size is bigger too.
 
Ron Scott:
And in some cases we've got the same number of cows today on the same amount of land that we had 30 years ago. Well guess what? These cows are at least 40% bigger. Do you have 1.4 times as much land? If you don't, then you're probably running out of grass and then you’ve got the whole cascade events. Am I really taking care of my cows the way I need to help stimulate things, like the fetal programming that we talked about? So those are some of the things to think about.
 
Ron Scott:
Growth rates are so much faster than they used to be. Well, what people don't realize is if growth is faster, that's a more stressful condition for the animal, right? And because of that, then you're more challenged. So stress is a big deal. We want to reduce stress as much as we can. Now, if you're gaining fast, that's a good stress, but at the same time, it's still stress for the animal.
 
Miranda Reiman:
It's a great point. Like it might be time to do some homework if you've got cows that look a little bit different out there. If there was one thing that you wanted cattleman to know after hearing us discuss this topic, what's the main message?
 
Ron Scott:
Yeah. So I think that try to think of it this way. Think about the lifetime of the calf, there are points in their life, which is a big stress, right? So what are those points? So, unfortunately it's every day during gestation, right? Because there are times when cows begin to lose weight and lose weight, and that affects that calf's development. The other thing is at birth, that's a big stress point. Another one is at weaning. Then if the calves are transported, well, there's another big stressor. And then as you have a receiving phase in transition to another location at a feedlot.
 
Ron Scott:
So all these stress points are critical. What we want to do is ensure that we have good BQA practices. We're thinking about that. We want to make sure that calves are vaccinated and that they get dewormed. So some of the husbandry practices that have always been right with big nutrition, meaning protein, calcium, phosphorus, all that good stuff, vitamins and minerals. But the other thing is, that I mentioned, now we have some nutritional additives that can just add on top of that and should be very helpful to the industry. So I tell folks, “Talk to who you're getting your nutritional support from, and they should be able to help direct you in the right way.”
 
Miranda Reiman:
Excellent. We always like to end on a fun question. So what's your favorite part about being in the cattle business?
 
Ron Scott:
Well, I tell people that the cattle business is a romance. It's a lifelong journey that everybody loves. So you get to be with the land, with the cattle, but the different thing that I've seen over the years is the people in the industry are just that's who we are. We like each other. We care about the animals, but we care about each other too. So it's a people game, too. And that's what I like.
 
Miranda Reiman:
I like it. You've got my same favorite reason. So thanks so much for taking the time to visit with me.
 
Ron Scott:
You're very welcome.
 

And thank you so much for listening today. If you want to learn more, pick up your March copy of your Angus Beef Bulletin and flip to the article, “Feed the Immune System.” If you like this podcast, be sure to rate us, leave a review or share it with your friends. 

 

Let us help make your Angus bulls work for you.