In this week's R2R Edition:
- There seems to be no limit to the uses of direct-fed microbial supplements – from controlling E. coli to increasing microbial digestion, a paper discusses research on the topic of microbiomes.
- Sustainability from a cow/calf perspective, a report helps to find common ground for ranchers, packers, and consumers – communication is key.
The Many Uses of Direct-Fed Microbials
- The microbes in the rumen have a large impact on the health and productivity of the ruminant.
- Increased levels of both lactic acid-producing and utilizing bacteria can decrease the risk of acidosis and improve the animal growth rate.
- Other research has shown that supplemental microbes can decrease the shedding of E. coli O157:H7 in feedlot cattle and increase carcass quality.
What you need to know: The potential impact of improving ruminal health has led researchers to supplement various microbes to cattle and measure the effects on things like milk production and animal growth rate. A recent review discusses the benefits and use-cases of feeding additional microbes to ruminants in a supplement form, called Direct-Fed Microbials or Probiotics.
A major portion of the microbes in the rumen are bacteria and are categorized as either lactic acid-producing (LAB) or lactic acid utilizing (LUB). When at the proper ratio, these two groups of bacteria harmoniously produce and use lactic acid. This harmony occurs because as LAB numbers increase in prevalence, they make more lactic acid, which is the food source of LUB. And the more food available, the more LUB bacteria that can survive in the rumen, increasing their population, which also means more products from the bacteria, called VFA. These VFA are used, in turn, by the host as an energy source, leading to more animal growth. Because of this, many direct-fed microbes are in the form of lactic acid-producing bacteria.
Even though non-bacterial microbes of the rumen make up a smaller portion than bacteria, they can still significantly affect ruminant digestion and health. For example, fungal supplements (see past R2R edition) can increase feed intakes and VFA production. Fungus in the rumen can increase the numbers of beneficial bacteria by providing them with acids and growth factors, and the good bacteria can then out-compete harmful bacteria populations.
Other research showed that supplementing cattle with a bacteria called Lactobacillus acidophilus can decrease the shedding of E. coli O157:H7 in feedlot cattle. This could be useful in the meatpacking industry to prevent foodborne illnesses. Additionally, other papers have shown increases in carcass quality, which benefits a good portion of the beef supply chain. Finally, some data suggest that these products could expedite the development of pre-weaning calves rumens by introducing beneficial microbes as the rumen microbiome begins to form.
Important to note:
- The stability of a product is vital, as microbes need to be viable to affect the rumen microbiome – product viability can be affected while in the supplement and during digestion.
- Interactions of supplements with feed ingredients of the ration, microbes that are already present in the rumen, and the physiology of the animal are not fully understood.
Industry application: Direct-fed microbes have been shown to improve the health and performance of feedlot animals and the rumen development of calves during weaning. These products have a wide array of applications and could improve the profitability of the operations that adopt their usage.
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Finding common ground for the grasslands
- Many consumers, non-profits, and government organizations are keen to know the environmental impacts of what consumers are buying, including meat.
- Paper provides producers with actionable indicators to report sustainability metrics, specifically those within the cow/calf system.
- In the programs they reviewed, many sustainability goals shared common interests with ranchers.
What you need to know: Sustainability has been growing in conversation recently with the COP26 summit occurring – many consumers, non-profits, and government organizations are keen to know the environmental impacts of what consumers are buying, including meat. And we, those in beef production, are at the forefront of this important yet often complex topic.
In the second paper in today's edition of R2R, we look at research that aims to clear up some of the complexity around sustainability and improve the communication of sustainability practices between those consuming beef products and those producing them. There are many sustainability assessments within the US, from groups like the BLM, The Grassland Alliance, and the US Roundtable for Sustainable Beef – 22 of them were reviewed in this paper. These researchers then converted these papers into actionable, measurable, and economical items for use in the beef supply chain – an aspect of the sustainability conversation that has been missing.
This research aimed to provide producers indicators that could be used in reporting sustainability metrics, specifically those within the cow/calf system. Corporations could then use these reports as measures to describe to the consumer what is being done to be more sustainable—ultimately providing better communication of the sustainability practices utilized at the ranch level. However, there needs to be a balance between the complexity of the measures used, the accuracy of sustainability testing, and the economic viability of the operations.
In the programs they reviewed, many sustainability goals shared common interests with ranchers, like rotational grazing to maintain high plant productivity, which increases water retention and carbon sequestration. Water flow patterns (i.e., water erosion) are a suggested indicator for ranchers to use to determine the ecological condition of their pastures. Many producers already use these management practices to ensure enough grass for their herd. This data could then be aggregated and used by meat processors to describe practices of their cattle sourcing to the consumer.
Industry application: Many organizations are working with ranchers to help quantify sustainability on the ranch level and use the data to help market the cattle that are being produced. With companies like Cargill and Walmart making sustainability goals commitments, the time soon approaches where we will need to decide what sustainability looks like at the ranch level and how we communicate it.
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