Ag report: Exploring kefir use in calves

Ag report: Exploring kefir use in calves
Published: Apr. 12, 2023 at 6:35 AM EDT
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POTSDAM, New York (WWNY) - “Greenwood Dairy consists of about 5850 cows,” said Jon Greenwood, who owns Greenwood Dairy Farms in Potsdam. “At a given time, in the two calf barns, we probably have about 150 calves.”

Greenwood knows that successful cows start as successful calves.

“Calves are really like all newborns,” he said. “You have to be careful they don’t contract diseases or respiratory problems, sp we’re always careful about how we house calves, and we do a lot with vaccination to try to prevent disease spread. But we’re also looking at other products to raise healthy calves.”

Greenwood co-chairs the Northern New York Agricultural Development Program, which funds research projects that could benefit farmers. A recent project used Miner Institute and volunteering farms to explore a probiotic called kefir.

“It’s chock full of beneficial bacteria, yeast, and fungi,” project researcher and Ph.D. candidate Cari Reynolds said. “And they have antimicrobial properties that can fight off bad bacteria in the gut.”

This is important for calves because the leading cause of death in young calves is diarrhea.

“What we were interested in looking at was, if feeding calves kefir once a day would improve growth or reduce use of antimicrobials,” Reynolds said.

As it turns out, kefir didn’t do much to prevent diarrhea, but it did do something else. For one farm, it helped calves gain weight faster.

“And that’s a big deal for calves because it helps them develop internally,” Reynolds said, “and that’s very important as they mature and become a ruminant animal.”

“There’s been a lot of research that shows if you can increase the rate of gain on a calf, you have a better cow when she’s able to milk,” Greenwood said. “So, that’s the goal. You want a calf to be healthy, grow fast, put on weight, and move up the chain.”

The research team recently presented these results internationally in Germany and will continue seeking developments for healthier calves — and happier farms.