Feed supplement puts whey back into play for livestock rations

Milk from livestock subjected to immune challenges might offer some improved health for other animals

A Regina company hopes a new product it is distributing will help build immunity in young and adult animals while minimizing antibiotic use.

The PMT Group, which consists of two companies, Prairie Microtech and Essential’s Inc., claims ProAct is a natural proactive immunity additive that contains a small amount of functional proteins and can be administered to dairy, beef, sheep, goats, swine, and poultry.

It launched the additive in Canada this spring.

The company also supplies the Canadian feed industry with milk replacers, supplements and feed ingredient commodities.

ProAct is designed mainly to enhance immune function.

“We don’t say that it replaces antibiotics because you can’t — that’s comparing apples to oranges. But what it does is once your immune system is repaired and the communication pathways are restored with the product, then your immune system can fight off more infections,” said Sylvia Wiebe, who operates a veterinary practice in Swift Current, Sask., and initially registered the product in Canada more than 15 years ago.

“You should be able to use less antibiotics and if you do have to use some, your condition should improve faster.”

Wiebe said efficacy of vaccines and medications are also improved without interactions or withdrawals.

“If you’re going to vaccinate your animals, the vaccines’ going to help you better if you have a good working immune system because it’s the immune system that has to respond to the vaccine and build up antibodies,” she said.

Other benefits include increased feed conversion for improved average daily gains, improved reproductive health and reduced disease outbreaks through herds and flocks.

ProAct is a dry whey powder product that can be fed in an animals feed ration and is also soluble in liquid, said Paula Hadland, western Canadian sales representative for PMT.

At the company’s farm in Iowa, ProAct is manufactured using the mammary glands of dairy cows that are hyper-immunized with small doses of the most common diseases such as avian, bovine, ovine and porcine — one disease per cow.

Hadland said a dairy cow’s mammary glands, do not discriminate between pathogens, even from those that commonly affect other species.

In the advent of a disease and to protect its calf, the cow’s immune system launches a response to prevent damage or invasion.

One of these responses is to generate cell signaling proteins called cytokines that direct the immune system to focus on specific invaders.

The small protective proteins are filtered from the colostrum and transition milk to create ProAct, which has separate product lines to focus on each species.

“Basically the cow sends these protective proteins to her udder, and then those are collected through the colostrum and the transition milk,” said Hadland.

Through a process of ultra-filtration, cytokines are separated out of the colostrum and transition milk and fed back to the animals as a whey protein.

The cytokines are not digested but remain whole and signal the appropriate response of the immune system.

An animal’s immune system consists of cells that recognize invading cells and destroys them. However, animals are born with passive immunity up to about three weeks of age, receiving short-term immunity from their mother’s colostrum.

Young animals begin to build their own active immunity by interacting with their environment, coming into contact with bacteria and viruses that challenge them and develop a means to recognize and destroy them before they cause harm.

Even with vaccines and antibiotics, which don’t take effect immediately, young animals are vulnerable to sickness or morbidity until their defences are established.

“If it’s a poultry disease that that cow was hyper immunized with, then those are the proteins that get fed back to poultry. The same thing with other animals like sheep. They’ll take about a dozen common diseases towards sheep and they’ll hyper immunize that cow with those diseases. And then all of those proteins will get packed into our sheep ProAct,” Hadland said.

The product is heat stable and water soluble. It can be used continuously on farms, can’t be overdosed and has no withdrawal.

However, Hadland points out it does not replace colostrum and could be fed through to adults.

The product contains only the small cell signalling proteins and not the antibody portion.

While it’s relatively new in Saskatchewan, Wiebe said ProAct is gaining attention.

She said a large dairy operation has diminished widespread rotavirus diarrhea in calves once they were on milk.

“Now that they’ve been using the ProAct, they might get one calf out of 30 that’ll have some diarrhea, they just give it some electrolytes and they come out of it,” she said.

Newly weaned calves also benefit with far fewer needing antibiotics.

A broiler barn has experienced significantly less deaths and rejects at slaughter time, while a layer operation has maintained normal production and less mortality, particularly during hot weather.

“The birds didn’t skip a beat and egg production didn’t go down. They just kept laying,” she said.

Wiebe has also used ProAct on her ranch to help with recurring staph infection on a horse’s face.

She said the best time to start administering ProAct is during periods of high stress such as four weeks before giving birth, whether it be cows, horses, pigs, goats or sheep.

ProAct should be administered right at weaning up to four to six weeks after, while poultry and layers receive it soon after they are put into the barn.

Jamie Hofer is pleased with the results since implementing ProAct into the swine operation at Starlight Hutterite Colony near Starbuck, Man.

“I like the fact that you can put it into the water and into the feed and you can use it for any age of animals,” he said.

He saw the biggest improvement with piglets a few days old, as well as with sow health, particularly before and after farrowing.

“I would say they were healthier and they milked better and improved milk yield,” he said.

The amount of immunizations has also decreased since they started using ProAct.

“It’s very cost effective and that’s what I like about it. There’s other things that break the bank a lot more,” he said.

“I guess I really like the fact that it’s safe with new regulations that require us to use less antibiotics and even banning some antibiotics.”

Added Wiebe: “When you pencil it out, you’re going to be money ahead by using ProAct to help get the immune system healthy so that it would fight off disease and your animals are going to have less mortality and less disease.”

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