You can get the most benefit from a calf-nutraceutical product by keeping her environment clean and dry.

More producers reach for non-antibiotic treatment options for animals than ever before. And despite the growing popularity of products such as calf nutraceuticals, not all producers see the same results.

That’s because man-made barriers often limit the effectiveness of these products. Just like any new tool, in order to get good results you must first learn how and when to use them.

Two commonly used nutraceuticals for calves are oligosaccarides and probiotics. Learn to avoid three common mistakes when using calf nutraceuticals.

Mistake #1: Using them to solve bad management.

Nutraceuticals, just like vaccines and antibiotics, cannot overcome an overwhelming pathogen load. Yet, consultants like Sam Leadley, a calf-management specialist with Attica Veterinary Associates in western New York, see people try to make nutraceuticals do just that; it happens all the time on farm. Someone adds a nutraceutical to the calves’ diet, hoping it will solve whatever health problem ails them. However, they fail to adopt measures, like improved sanitation practices that help reduce pathogen numbers. In the end, calf health plunges even further, and the blame falls squarely on the nutraceutical. It’s a classic case of the “it-didn’t-work” syndrome.

To avoid this scenario, do two things.

First, respect the purpose of the nutraceutical. Most nutraceuticals are marketed as a way to enhance calf performance and health, such as by increasing starter intake or by reducing scours. They are not intended to clean up — let alone eliminate — an already overwhelming number of pathogens in the calf’s environment.

Second, fix shortcomings in your calf-management program that allow pathogens to proliferate. Step up sanitation and disinfection measures to reduce pathogen loads. Above all, remember that a nutraceutical is not a bandage for bad management.

Mistake #2: Storing them improperly.

“The handling of probiotics is just abysmal,” Leadley says. Probiotics, a class of nutraceuticals, contain living organisms. When stored improperly, these living organisms often perish before they reach the calf.

Probiotics are just one example of how poorly some farms handle and store nutraceuticals.

Many nutraceuticals are sensitive to temperature and sunlight. Here are some tips to avoid storage and handling problems that can jeopardize the viability of these products:

  • Read and follow product guidelines regarding storage temperature.
  • Pay attention to the expiration date on the product.
  • Close the bag or container securely between uses.
  • Store the product in a dry location.
  • If you can’t use the contents within a short period of time, buy a smaller quantity.

Mistake #3: Buying based on price.

With milk prices souring, many producers are looking to cut cost. That makes lower-cost nutrceuticals more appealing.

But be wary of the claim “It’s the same as product X, but cheaper.” If the alternate product is nothing more than magic dust — in other words, it’s unproven or not well researched — switching to it may end up costing you more in the long run.

To avoid this problem, buy based on sound research, says Scott Carter, North American technical services representative for Alltech. Ask the manufacturer for the following information:

  • Animal health and performance results from published journals and company research trials.
  • Clearly defined and sensible quality-control data to ensure the product contains the right active components.
  • Amount of technical support available to help you use the product properly.

Use this information to make an informed, not cost-driven, decision about which product to buy.