Rearing young ruminants: Help your calves overcome the challenges!

Juhani Vuorenmaa, R&D Director

Rearing of young ruminants can be challenging as they are highly susceptible to a variety of diseases due to the immaturity of their active immunity and stresses that can reduce the immune activity during the early phase of life. Diarrhea and respiratory problems are especially common when calves from different farms or age groups are mixed.

Diets and ingredients by which the development of the active immunity can be enhanced are thus valuable. Young ruminants are also undergoing a transition period from milk feeding to dry feeds which challenges their digestion system. Faster development of rumen and its microbiota will increase dry feed intake and will make young ruminants more adaptive for weaning. 

Hankkija’s patented yeast hydrolysate Progut® has shown to modulate the immunity and to speed up the dry feed intake of the young ruminants thus improving their performance and wellbeing.

Progut® trains the immunity of young calves helping them to cope better with the challenges

Our yeast hydrolysate product Progut® contains several immune stimulating compounds (β-glucan, mannoprotein and chitin structures) and has increased water-solubility for better visibility to immune receptors. It has shown to increase the production of IP-10 cytokine which is a known chemo-attractant involved in the recruitment of T-lymphocytes. Most likely for this reason, it has shown to increase the amount of T-lymphocytes and immunoglobulin production in the gut in different animal species.

Due to these functions it has enhanced the immune responses of young animals under challenge. In a way, Progut® trains the immune system of young animals to cope better with the challenges.

In an experiment that was carried out at the National Institute of Animal Science, Republic of Korea (Initiates file downloadKim et al. 2011) Holstein calves were separated from their mothers within 2 h of birth and moved into individual pens. They were fed with colostrum for the first three days and after that with whole milk. Calf starter feed without or with Progut® addition (0,2 %) and hay were given from the first and fourth week of age, respectively. In order to investigate the immune response after microbial infection, all calves were challenged with porcine Hog cholera and Erysipelothrix insidiossa live vaccines by intramuscular injection at three weeks of age.

Calves in the Progut® group had significantly better (P < 0.05) fecal and health scores than the control at three weeks of age. Calves fed with the Progut® supplemented starter feed showed elevated concentrations of Hog cholera and Erysipelothrix insidiossa specific antibodies (IgA) in the blood at earlier time compared to the control group (see the Figures 1 and 2). The difference to the control was significant (P < 0.05) at 5 days post microbial infection.

These results suggest that Progut® addition in the starter feed speeded up the immune maturation of young ruminants giving them better immunocompetence against microbial infection.

Progut® improves the intake of dry feed and thus the performance of young ruminants

In the above mentioned calf trial, Progut® supplementation tended to increase the starter feed intake of young calves (as in the table below), which is an indication of faster rumen development. In a calf trial at a private research farm in the Netherlands 96 calves were fed with milk replacer, starter feed without or with Progut® addition (0.2 %) and chopped straw. In this trial, Progut® increased the starter feed intake by 5 % before weaning and chopped straw intake by 35 % after weaning which supports the hypothesis that Progut® can enhance rumen development making the calves better adapted for the weaning. Progut® amendment also gave a weight advantage of 1.3 kg at the end of the 8 week trial period. In a similar trial at the University of Wales Bangor, Progut® addition in the starter feed improved the average daily gain of calves by 25 % before weaning at 6 weeks and by 28 % during the trial period (6–8 weeks) after weaning.

Starter feed intake g/week



Week 2

172,1 (+- 25,1)

342,3 (+- 30,1)

Week 4

693,2 (+- 52,9)

953,5 (+- 71,3)

Week 5

1358,1 (+- 101,2)

1505,9 (+- 121,1)


Young ruminants undergo a variety of challenges during the early phases of their lives. Supporting faster development of immunity and rumen function by nutritional means may help them to overcome most of the challenges and reduce the need for antibiotic treatments.