Ask your nutritionist about DIRECT-FED MICROBIALS

2010 is here and, given the economic fallout from 2009, hard decisions will need to be made on a number of dairy management fronts. As producers and their advisors meet in the conference room (or kitchen), herd nutrition may be one of the most debated and diverse conversations of all.

By Brad Clyburn

When management discussions with your dairy advisors get around to nutrition, feed additives will likely raise a number of questions. One nutrition conversation that should be on the table concerns direct-fed microbials (DFM). DFMs are getting a closer review, based on their reported benefits in both herd health and production. Since there’s no doubt saving money on veterinary bills and squeezing a few more pounds of milk out of each cow would help your bottom line, here are a few starter questions to explore.

Brad Clyburn, Ph.D., is Key Account Manager with Chr. Hansen Animal Health & Nutrition. Contact him via phone: 817-718-6996; e-mail: or visit

Brad Clyburn, Ph.D., is Key Account Manager with Chr. Hansen Animal Health & Nutrition. Contact him via phone: 817-718-6996; e-mail: or visit

1) What are DFMs?

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) doesn’t allow the term “probiotics” to be used in our industry. For humans, you find probiotics in products you consume every day, such as yogurt and cheese. We broadly call these “beneficial bacteria,” since they contribute to good health and even some levels of immune response. However, there are also pathogenic (bad) bacteria that can negatively affect your health.

Your dairy herd is also exposed to both good and bad bacteria, and their health and performance could be also be compromised. Ask your nutritionist about how these bacteria may affect your cow’s health and performance, much like good and bad bacteria can affect your health.

2) What is the science behind DFMs? How do they work in the rumen?

A DFM is a beneficial bacteria that helps balance the intestinal microflora. In dairy cows, this specifically means managing the amount of lactic acid in the rumen. It’s well known that excess lactic acid in the rumen can contribute to health-related issues, such as acidosis. Certain DFMs have been proven to provide bacteria which consumes lactic acid, thereby helping provide a level of acidic control. Ask about other issues or challenges related to excess lactic acid in the rumen.

3) What benefits will I see by using DFMs?

Research proves that a continual feeding regimen of DFMs can have significant improvements in both health and production. Because the rumen is in better balance, the cow’s dry matter intake (DMI) can improve. The result of increased DMI is better health and production. In fact, research from Chr. Hansen Animal Health & Nutrition demonstrates 3-5 lbs. more milk, along with improvements in fat and protein yields. Ask to see data on this kind of performance, and discuss how improved DMI can positively affect cow health.

4) When should I consider using DFMs?

Continual feeding of DFMs in all groups is recommended, but since each operation is managed differently, you should discuss some of these common scenarios when a DFM can have the most impact:

• at birth. The intestinal tract of newborns is basically sterile, which provides the best opportunity for introducing the beneficial bacteria found in DFMs.

• during weaning or other diet change. At weaning, a young animal’s digestive system is not fully developed to efficiently change from milk to plant-based rations. Additionally, any time the forage changes the cow’s rumen undergoes a period of stress as she adjusts to the new forage.

• during periods of stress. Handling, shipping, vaccination, weather changes and extremes, surgery and other situations can put stress on the animal, resulting in reduced appetite and feed intake and weight loss.

• after antibiotic therapy. Antibiotic treatment often lowers the number or growth of Lactobacillus and other beneficial microbes in the digestive tract. DFMs assist in replenishing these beneficial bacteria, resulting in a quicker return to a balanced intestinal microflora.

• daily feeding. Since many stressful situations can’t be anticipated, daily feeding is recommended as a preventive measure. DFMs have been shown to improve animal performance and health when included in the diet.

5) How do I select a brand?

By law, DFM product labels must indicate a cell count guarantee. Be sure to compare labels for this guaranteed analysis and investigate the packaging. Many products are shipped with live bacteria, but arrive on the farm dead because they were improperly packaged. Good packaging technology can keep bacteria alive without refrigeration. Discuss reputable manufacturers that:

• have a core competency in all aspects of microbiology, including the selecting, growing, harvesting and stabilizing of microbial cultures.

• have food-grade manufacturing facilities that follow FDA guidelines and practices.

• have highly concentrated and stable products that do not require refrigeration.

• meets all HACCP food safety criteria.

• guarantees the level of viable organisms.

• has conducted extensive university research to support product effectiveness.


Brad Clyburn, Ph.D., is Key Account Manager with Chr. Hansen Animal Health & Nutrition. Contact him via phone: 817-718-6996; e-mail: or visit