Starting January 1, 2017 the use of feed additive antibiotics will be changed forever!

Scientists have been recommending this change for many years as the misuse and overuse of antibiotics has led to a decrease in their effectiveness.

Some common antibiotic misconceptions and subsequent consequences are:

  • Antibiotics are not effective against viruses. Viruses are the major cause of scours in calves.
  • Prolonged feeding of antibiotics allows resistant strains of pathogens to evolve – thus rendering the antibiotic ineffective.
  • These “super bugs” that evolve can render other antibiotics ineffective in treating human infections.


Fortunately, other technologies have made significant advances in the past decades, many of these advances perhaps have replaced the need for feed antibiotics altogether!

A classic example of the reduced need for feed antibiotics is in the large calf ranches in the West. These ranches historically bring in hundreds of day old calves every day with most having had limited colostrum intake compounded with being transported immediately after birth.

Calf ranchers were happy to keep mortality below 15%. The major cause of mortality was intestinal viruses so ranchers quickly began exploring alternative treatments.

Each ranch has developed their own blend of antibiotic alternatives based on the technologies below. These methods have brought mortality levels below 3% – and many calves are even raised without any antibiotics.


For example, the “Probiotic Factor” * has been around since the days of Elie Metchnikoff in the late 1800’s. At that time, it was thought yogurt contained the key organisms in the “Probiotic Effect”.*

It is now known that Lactobacillus bulgaricus is the lactobacillus in yogurt – and isn’t a good probiotic organism. Other strains have been found to be far more beneficial which is why most yogurts contain Lactobacillus acidophilus or Bifidobacteria.

In the early 1970’s almost no one believed these benefits existed – now days virtually everybody believes there is a definite health factor for humans and animals in probiotics. The reasons for the acceptance of these results lie in many factors:

  • Not all strains of bacteria are beneficial. Therefore, you must select your strains carefully.
  • Beneficial strains must be selected on the basis of remaining viable during storage and feeding. Dead organisms don’t have any effect.
  • The strains must grow quickly in the host gut to be effective and as such should be selected on their viability in the species they are intended for. A strain that does well in the chicken gut may not do as well in a calf.
  • You must select strains that have superior “Competitive Exclusion” factors. The pathogen repression is done by various means such as occupying the entire gut surface so pathogens cannot attach or producing metabolites like lactic acid which inhibit pathogens.

Most scientists believe the Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus acidophilus are the most beneficial organisms. Unfortunately, these are the most difficult to grow and preserve, making them more expensive.

*The F.D.A. strongly prefers that the term Direct Fed Microbials (DFM’s) be used instead of probiotics in pet and animal applications.

The Colostrum Type Products

Colostrum has long been recognized for containing many beneficial health factors. It was originally believed that specific antibodies were a key factor in its effectiveness, but early assays methods were crude and only able to measure solids contents.

Assay methods have greatly improved in the past 40 years and now assays can measure the type and quantity of each antibody present. These more advanced assay techniques have chartered the way for the development of new antibodies that are specific to the disease challenges calves may face. In the case of scours for example, specific antibodies could be derived by hyperimmunizing chickens with the antigen that causes scours.

The hyperimmunizing method results in uniform products designed specifically for the immune challenges calves will face early in life. This technology can be applied to both bacteria and viruses with one huge benefit: these products would not cause a resistant strains of bacteria or viruses to develop and would not leave residues in the meat.

Organic Acids and Essential Oils

Organic acids and essentials oils have been used in food preservation for centuries. A few examples are the use of acetic acid (vinegar) to preserve pickles and olives and lactic acid to preserve milk.

Of the essential oils, oregano is the most commonly known and used largely due to its bacteria static and bactericidal effect. These two characteristics make oregano a common ingredient in feed additives.


Prebiotics are a relative newcomer to these applications. Their intended use is growth stimulation of probiotic bacteria. As with any emerging technology, scientists are still evaluating the subcomponents of these products to identify which are most effective.

In summary, there are technologies that are certainly more effective than antibiotics. Probably the most noteworthy characteristic of these new technologies are their antibacterial AND antiviral properties. These new technologies also offer alternative production methods for meat, milk and eggs that may be viewed by some consumers as more socially and environmentally conscious.

Perhaps we should say 2017 is the dawning of new opportunities!