Performance of Holstein calves fed whole milk with or without kefir


A growing body of evidence suggests health-promoting effects of kefir consumption on different nonruminant species, leading to the speculation that kefir may act as a probiotic and benefit calf performance and health. Our objectives were to determine effects of feeding kefir on performance and health of calves in the first 70 d of life. Thirty 3-d-old female Holstein calves (body weight = 38.2 ± 3.1 kg) were blocked by initial body weight and assigned randomly to 1 of 3 treatments (1 calf per pen; 10 pens per treatment). Kefir was added to whole milk (vol/vol) at 0:1 (control; KF0), 1:3 (KF1), or 1:1 (KF2) and fed twice per day (0800 and 1600 h) from d 3 through 45 and then once per day until weaning, which occurred on d 50. Pre- and postweaning intake of starter, daily body weight gain, and gain-to-feed ratio exhibited no difference among treatments. Adding kefir to whole milk fed directly to calves had no effect on concentration of blood metabolites collected on d 20, 40, and 70. Body length on d 50 (weaning) and 70 was greater in kefir-fed calves. Kefir intake improved fecal scores and reduced days with diarrhea during the first 2 wk of life. Apparent digestibility of organic matter, ether extract, crude protein, and neutral detergent fiber remained unaffected by treatment. Overall, it appears that directly feeding kefir to calves during the preweaning period did not improve the performance of calves under the conditions of the current study; however, its consumption marginally improved body length and fecal consistency in the first weeks of life, which is an important concern in intensive calf-rearing systems. Feeding kefir to neonatal calves may be a viable approach to improve the health of calves in commercial calf-rearing operations, although to validate its health-promoting effects additional research is needed to investigate its effects under different calf-rearing conditions.


Biological Sciences

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Journal of Dairy Science



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