Why Should You Feed Butyrate to Your Calves?


Butyrate is a by-product of natural fermentation of carbohydrates in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract of calves. When diets high in starch and simple sugars are fed to animals, it leads to increased butyrate production in the rumen followed by the accelerated development of rumen epithelium and rumen papillae. It results in the high intake and efficient digestion of solid food at an early age. Such source of butyrate greatly impacts the development of GI tract, abomasum, small intestine, and pancreas before rumen development.

During the first two-three weeks of calf birth, rumen development is slow as the calf feeds on either cow milk or milk replacers which lack butyrate. Hence, dietary supplementation of butyrate either in liquid milk, solid feed, or both will allow accelerated growth of GI tract and rumen. 

Butyrate supplementation through liquid feed affects small intestine and abomasum while when given in solid feed, it affects the rumen growth. It is given in various forms like salt (calcium, sodium), or ester of butyrate and glycerol, wherein sodium butyrate is ubiquitously used.
All the sources of butyrate supplements have a different impact on calf’s GI tract.

A study shows that even a small amount of unprotected sodium butyrate supplement given in liquid milk stimulates pancreas, rumen papillae, and small intestine function and development. It also positively affects the growth performance of ruminants by increasing efficiency of nutrient digestion.
While in solid feed, both protected and unprotected sodium butyrate enhances gut development and growth performance and encourage solid food intake in newborn calves particularly during the pre-weaning period. 

Altogether, the study suggests that unprotected sodium butyrate given in milk replacers boosts growth performance in calves while protected sodium butyrate, when supplemented in starter mixture, fosters solid food intake. 

Both these methods of butyrate supplementation, however, improve GI tract development. Hence, it is recommended to feed butyrate supplements in the liquid and solid feed to enhance calf growth and stimulate digestive system development.

Butyrate is a valuable feed additive to improve calf performance and growth. Do you feed butyrate supplement to your calves? What changes and benefits have you observed after feeding butyrate-rich diet? Share with us in the comments and if you’d like to know more on the best dairy farming practices and our animal husbandry software, stay tuned to our blogs. And don’t forget to share this information with others if you liked it!

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