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Selko | Transition Management


Dietary interventions to improve hindgut health of dairy cows

Key takeaways from this article

  • Hindgut acidosis is as common as rumen acidosis in dairy cows
  • Leaky gut as a result of hindgut acidosis will lead to systemic inflammation and immune activation
  • Poor digestive adaptation as a result of leaky gut will result in poor transition to lactation and poor fertility

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During the Selko webinar on February 25, 2021, Dr Victoria Sanz-Fernandez gave a presentation on the impact of diets with high levels of starch on hindgut health. She highlighted the fact that signs attributed to rumen acidosis, such as loose and frothy faeces with mucin casts are actually signs of hindgut acidosis. Dietary interventions to prevent “leaky gut” as a result of hindgut acidosis in dairy cows were presented.

Prevent "leaky gut" to avoid systemic immune activation during transition of dairy cows

During the transition to lactation, dairy cows have to undergo three core physiological adaptations, metabolic adaptation, digestive adaptation and immune adaptation1,2,3,4. Recent advances in ruminant nutrition highlight the importance of hindgut health as a prerequisite for a smooth digestive adaptation. Eexcessive carbohydrate fermentation in the hindgut has been shown to have a negative impact on health and performance of dairy cows5. Risk factors for ruminal acidosis also increase the risk for dairy cows to develop hindgut acidosis. Both disorders often occur at the same time. Symptoms traditionally associated with rumen acidosis, such as loose and frothy faeces with mucin casts could in fact very well be symptoms of hindgut acidosis6 (See figure 1). In dairy cows with hindgut acidosis, the gastrointestinal microbiota can be harmed, absorption can be impaired, leading to a reduction of nutrient utilisation and the barrier function of the gastrointestinal epithelium can be disturbed, a phenomenon referred to as “leaky gut”.

As a result of leaky gut, bacterial endotoxins and other aggressive compounds can reach the systemic circulation.

As a result of leaky gut, bacterial endotoxins and other aggressive compounds can reach the systemic circulation. This causes systemic inflammation and activation of the immune system, with a significant energy cost for the dairy cow. Victoria Sanz Fernandez and some co-authors reviewed 135 scientific publications to provide an overview of four key areas of research regarding gastrointestinal health of dairy cows7:

  • Grain overload syndrome and the impact of starch digestion on different parts of the gastro-intestinal tract
  • Intestinal health and systemic inflammation as a result of leaky gut
  • Energetic cost of systemic inflammation
  • Impact of hindgut health on metabolic diseases in dairy cows

This work emphasizes how challenges that are affecting the rumen also disrupt hindgut functionality. Nutritional strategies to improve digestive adaptation should therefore not only target the rumen but also the hindgut. This should include options to bypass the rumen with components that can improve the ecological balance in the hindgut and can improve barrier function.

It was concluded that improving the digestive adaptation during transition will improve animal health and welfare and optimize performance of dairy cows.

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You can access all of our documentation about Selko protocols, sustainable dairy farming and latest research insights about Dairry Cow transition management.

Hindgut acidosis can be reduced by providing rumen protected calcium gluconate43,44,45,46,47,48,49,50. Gut barrier function can be improved by providing the hydroxy form of trace minerals42, thus avoiding the negative effects of sulfates on hindgut health.

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Selko | Solutions based science

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Find out more about transition management...

References about hindgut health of dairy cows

  1. Sundrum, A, (2014). Metabolic Disorders in the Transition Period Indicate that the Dairy Cows’ Ability to Adapt is Overstressed, Animals, 5: 978-1020.
  2. De Vries, A. and M.I. Marcondes (2019). Review: Overview of factors affecting productive lifespan of dairy cows, Animal. 14(S1):155–164.
  3. Colditz, I.A. and B. C. Hine (2016). Resilience in farm animals: biology, management, breeding and implications for animal welfare, Animal Production Science, 56:1961–1983.
  4. Drackley, J.K, Dann, H.M, Douglas, N, Janovich-Guretzky, N.A, Litherland, B.L, Underwood, J.P. and J.J. Loor (2005). Physiological and pathological adaptations in dairy cows that may increase susceptibility to periparturient diseases and disorders, Italian Journal of Animal Science, 4.
  5. Horst, E.A, Mayorga, E.J, Rodriguez-Jimenez, S, Abeyta, M.A, Goetz, B.M, Carta, S, Al-Qaisi, M, Kvidera, S.K. and L. H. Baumgard (2019). Causes and Metabolic Consequences of Leaky Gut, Department of Animal Science, Iowa State University.
  6. Li, S, Khafipour, E, Krause, D.O, Kroeker, A, Rodriguez-Lecompte, J, Gozho, G.N. and J. C. Plaizier (2012). Effects of subacute ruminal acidosis challenges on fermentation and endotoxins in the rumen and hindgut of dairy cows, J. Dairy Sci. 95:294–303.
  7. Sanz-Fernandez, M.V, Daniel, J, Seymour, D.J, Kvidera, S.K, Bester, Z, Doelman, J. and J. Martín-Tereso (2020). Targeting the Hindgut to Improve Health and Performance in Cattle, Animals, 10: 1817.