Unveiling the Beneficial Effects and Mechanisms of Butyrate Supplementation in High-Fiber Starters for Calves

Published 18 July, 2023

The development of the gastrointestinal tract is crucial for calves, as it significantly impacts the production performance and overall health of adult cattle. Previous research has demonstrated that supplementing with butyrate is an effective method to enhance gastrointestinal development. However, most studies have focused on calves fed a low-fiber diet.

In a recent study published in the KeAi journal Animal Nutrition, a team of Chinese researchers investigated the effects of butyrate supplementation in calves fed a high-fiber starter. They found that  that incorporating butyrate into the high-fiber starter had numerous positive effects on gastrointestinal development. These effects included the inhibition of inflammation, enhancement of immunity and energy utilization, and activation of microbial carbohydrate metabolism.

“By inhibiting inflammation, butyrate supplementation promoted a healthier gastrointestinal environment in the calves, contributing to improved overall health,” shared Shengguo Zhao, co-corresponding author of the study. “Additionally, the enhanced immunity resulting from butyrate supplementation aided in safeguarding the calves against various diseases and infections.”

The addition of butyrate has been shown to have positive effects on feed intake and body weight gain in calves. These effects are attributed to its ability to promote rumen development and provide energy for the proliferation of gut cells. However, most studies in the literature have focused on supplementing butyrate in starter feeds with less than 20% neutral detergent fiber (NDF), the most common measure of fiber used for animal feed analysis. In the present study, the NDF level was increased to 30%. Surprisingly, even in this scenario, butyrate still exhibited promoting effects on gastrointestinal development in the calves.

“Our study demonstrates the advantageous effects of supplementing butyrate in high-fiber starters, contributing to the gastrointestinal development and growth of calves,” added Zhao. “These findings offer novel insights into the potential mechanisms underlying the beneficial impacts of butyrate.”

Looking ahead, the researchers suggest that further study should focus on examining the effect of butyrate supplementation in various fiber levels to determine an optimal ratio that strikes a balance between feeding costs and production benefits. “We can gain a better understanding of the most effective and cost-efficient approach to incorporate butyrate in calf nutrition,” said Zhao.


Contact author name, affiliation, email address:

Shengguo Zhao, Institute of Animal Sciences, Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences, Beijing, China, zhaoshengguo1984@163.com.

See the article:

Huiyue Zhong, et al, Sodium butyrate promotes gastrointestinal development of preweaning bull calves via inhibiting inflammation, balancing nutrient metabolism, and optimizing microbial community functions, Animal Nutrition, Volume 14, 2023, Pages 88-100, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.aninu.2023.04.004.

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