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Powdered seaweed as a dietary supplement for calves

Scientists have discovered a way to boost the concentration of blood plasma components, that are vital for the immune system of young calves by mixing powdered seaweed into the milk supplied to them. The research conducted by scientists at the Department of Animal Science at Aarhus University has already commenced testing on 40 Holstein bull calves.

It’s a well-established fact that young calves are susceptible to diarrhea. This could be attributed to a number of factors, including an undeveloped immune system and poor management procedures. Possible reasons include late colostrum allocation, poor colostrum quality, and poor sanitation. The calf is more susceptible to infectious diseases as a result of this, especially during the first month of life.

Initial trials on pigs show promising results

Three types of seaweed have been harvested for the initial feeding trials. Various green seaweed of the Ulva genus and two types of brown seaweed, Ascophyllum nodosum, and Saccharina latissimi. After harvesting the seaweed it is dried and milled in order to powder it, hereafter it is mixed into the milk which is then fed to the calves.

These seaweed extracts have previously been tested on pigs where it was shown to reduce the prevalence of diarrhea, which might be due to certain seaweed species containing bioactive substances that have probiotic and immunomodulatory properties. Based on the findings from the pig trials, the Department of Animal Science at Aarhus University initiated a project with the aim of investigating whether seaweed could have a similar diarrhea-suppressing effect in young calves.

A positive impact on the immune system

40 Holstein bull calves above two days old were brought in for the experiment. These calves were randomly divided into one control group and three treatment groups. Both groups were given 8 liters of milk daily, while the latter group was given 50 grams of one of the above-mentioned seaweed types. Initial results showed no effect on the calves’ plasma immunoglobulin concentrations during the first month, although further research showed that the seaweed increased the plasma concentration of some acute-phase proteins that has a positive effect on the functionality of the innate immune system.

The innate immune system and the acute-phase proteins are central to the calves’ health and thereby their ability to fight infectious diseases. The results suggest that adding seaweed may have a beneficial effect. However, it can not be ruled out that the results may be due to an increased inflammatory response in the calves. As a result, more research will be required to acquire a better understanding of the actual mechanisms underlying the findings.

Source: DCA – Danish Centre for Food and Agriculture (Danish)