A study was conducted to determine the effect of MS Biotec’s patented strain of Megasphaera elsdenii NCIMB 41125 on pre-weaning performance and rumen development of Holstein calves. Results of the study were released for distribution this week.

Megasphaera elsdenii is the prominent lactic acid utilizing bacteria found in the rumen of cattle fed concentrate-based diets.  Lactic acid is a strong acid produced in the rumen that can accumulate if not utilized by the rumen microbes.  Accumulation of lactic acid depresses rumen pH, which can lead to acidosis causing damage to the rumen wall and negatively impact the rumen microbial population, decreasing intake, and impairing performance.  Cattle that have not had previous exposure to high concentrate diets are particularly at risk of lactic acid accumulation due to inadequate populations of lactate utilizing bacteria.

At birth 30 Holstein calves were randomly assigned to a control group or a test group. At 14 days of age, the test group was given a 50-ml oral drench of Megasphaera elsdenii. Both groups were fed whole milk twice daily and were offered calf starter and water free choice beginning on day 4.  Calves were weaned at 42 days of age at which time 12 calves (6/treatment) were selected to measure rumen development and volatile fatty acid (VFA) profiles.

Calves receiving the Megasphaera elsdenii drench consumed 30% more calf starter prior to weaning and were 11 lbs heavier at weaning.  In addition, the rumens of the dosed calves had heavier empty weights, wider papillae, and greater papillae density.  The increased rumen development is a result of greater calf starter intake and significantly higher concentrations of ruminal butyrate, a VFA known to stimulate rumen development. 

Calves with more developed rumens can be weaned earlier and effectively utilize solid feeds to support energy requirements for maintenance and growth.  Furthermore, the ability to effectively utilize solid feeds aids in preventing the performance slump that often occurs at weaning.  Weaning calves earlier decreases the amount of milk/milk replacer being fed reducing feed cost and labor associated with managing calves in individual pens.