Agile cows – Imagine a world where you control adaptation in cows

What if we could formulate diets for dairy cows that support the cow’s adaptation to challenges in the diet and her environment in a more desirable way for milk profits? We could expect more agile cows and more consistent performance in response to diet formulations throughout the production cycle.

Link to short video trailer of the article here

If the Titanic had had the pre-sense and adaptive cruise technology developed by Audi, it would have been able to anticipate the iceberg and reduce or avoid its impact. Hollywood would be short of one of its great movies, but the Titanic might still be cruising around today or at least would not be at the bottom of the North Atlantic Ocean. This forms the base for the development of a gut agility activator.

Agile version of Titanic

More than a hundred years ago the Titanic sunk, after colliding with an iceberg during its maiden voyage. Technologies that exist today to predict collisions and automatically adapt speed and change direction could have easily prevented such a disaster. Responsive and adaptive technologies are leading the development for increased agility in how we and machines are operating today. Agility in this context is the capacity to anticipate and adapt to changes or challenges quickly for competitive advantage and minimize damage to performance and efficiency.

Agile dairy cow

We formulate diets of dairy cows to meet nutrient requirements for expected performance outcomes. However, many times the expected outcomes are not reached, due to the cow facing challenges through the diet or her environment, which could not be predicted in the diet formulation, but affect her performance, efficiency or even her health. Depending on the cow’s own coping and defense mechanisms she will be affected to a greater or lesser extent. Some cows maybe genetically more “agile” than others and able to cope with stressors more efficiently. To those who are more like the Titanic or are under high performance pressure and limited in their agility, dietary and environmental stressors will be more detrimental for performance and health. This begs the question for cost-effective nutritional means to improve the cow’s agility.

Feeding for agility

Knowing which challenges or stressors to anticipate is winning half the battle. Determining their potential impact and the detrimental reactions they can cause to the efficiency and performance of the dairy cow helps to find predictive ways to mitigate the consequences. Common stress reactions in the dairy cow to stressors in the feed and in the environment, are oxidative stress, inflammation, shifts in rumen microflora and efficiency at the cellular level and reduction in feed intake. They will all lead to wasted energy and increased maintenance energy or a reduction in energy intake, which again will have consequences for milk yield and quality. A greater understanding of the underlying mechanisms can advance our ability to formulate dietary concepts to interfere with the way cows adapt in a predictive manner for more consistent and profitable outcomes.

Antagonistic DMI adaptation

The understanding of the regulation of dry matter intake (DMI) is very important in
ruminant nutrition, due to its importance for milk production. More recent research shows that certain gut peptides or gastrointestinal hormones play a role in DMI regulation in ruminants. For example, it was proven that cholecystokinin (CCK) has a regulatory effect on feed intake in dairy cattle fed high fat diets. High fat diets increased plasma CCK concentrations and decreased dry matter intake. Blockage of endogenous CCK activity at the CCKA receptor with a synthetic antagonist reversed fat-induced depression of dry matter intake. Since certain plant extracts are known to have an antagonistic effect to CCK in humans, they may also offer a solution to DMI regulation in ruminants, particularly in the face of fat or DON (deoxynivalenol) in the diet, which are known to increase CCK activity and decrease feed intake. They might help to adapt the cow’s normal response to these dietary factors to a more favourable one in terms of DMI and milk production.

Rumen function optimisation

Any diet factors that affect rumen fermentation can change milk fat and protein levels. Any reduction in rumen microbial protein production from nutrition or feeding management imbalances will reduce milk protein by way of less microbial protein for the cow to digest and depress fat by limiting VFA (volatile fatty acid) production in the rumen. Scientific literature indicates that certain essential oils and their components can have a positive effect on rumen fermentation and microbial protein synthesis. This has been particularly the case, when diets with high concentrate levels were fed and rumen pH was low. Considering the fact, that the mycotoxin DON in diets can also affect rumen fermentation and microbial synthesis negatively and the capacity of rumen microbes to detoxify DON decreases with high concentrate diets, certain essential oils and their components maybe used to adapt rumen function to dietary challenges and also reduce the impact of DON on rumen function.

Antioxidative capacity boost

Adding antioxidative components from herbs and spices to the diet can help to increase the antioxidative capacity of cows, neutralizing the damage of reactive oxygen species (ROS) or free radicals that would otherwise occur. This can mean a huge boost to the cow’s agility, since oxidative stress is a very common stress reaction to many stressors the cow will encounter throughout her productive life. Certain antioxidative components from herbs and spices can enhance the antioxidative capacity of the dairy cow. As oxidative stress has been associated with higher somatic cell counts (SCC) and a reduction in feed intake, this can translate into beneficial effects for milk quality and milk solid yield, particularly if the cow is facing challenges. The safety value for performance and cost-efficiency of the diet improves.

Results to be expected

The results to be expected from diets designed to increase the agility of the dairy cow by nutritional means were tested by adding a gut agility activator to dairy cow rations in several different countries in field and research conditions. The gut agility activator Anco FIT contained an adaption formula comprising bioactive substances from herbs and spices with known positive effects on antioxidative capacity, rumen efficiency and appetite regulation. Milk fat and protein yields were increased in most cases, due to improved milk fat and protein contents, without negative impacts on milk yield and in some cases milk yields were even increased. In addition to that improvements to SCC were seen on dairy farms with higher levels of SCC and milk yields. The results suggest that further developing the concept of cow agility by nutritional means is a way for gaining greater control on milk profits from diet formulations.

By Gwendolyn Jones, Published in Positive Action International Dairy Topics 2018

How some cows can give heat stress the cold shoulder

Some cows are cooler than others in the face of summer heat. What is their secret to resist heat stress? Scientists are beginning to discover that resilience plays an important role in dairy cows, when it comes to coping with rising temperatures.

Climate change drives research into heat stress

As June approaches temperatures are rising and so is the risk for heat stress in cows. Temperatures are rising, not just now, because we are at the end of May, but also in general. Our climate is changing, and we can expect to see increases in temperature over the coming century. According to recent predictions, global temperatures are expected to rise by 1.4–3.0°C by the end of this century. Not surprisingly several large-scale research projects are currently under way in different parts of the world for a better understanding of heat stress in cattle and more importantly to find ways of managing it more effectively. The goal being to maintain cow welfare, health and productivity in a sustainable way as temperatures rise. Strategies to mitigate heat stress include physical protection, nutritional management and more recently the potential for genetic improvement in heat tolerance is researched.

Milk yield and quality spoils with heat stress

Heat-stressed dairy cows produce less milk and the quality of their milk is reduced. On top of that heat stress can interfere with the cow’s ability to conceive and can increase susceptibility to disease. This can lead to significant economic losses. Consequently, there is considerably incentive to increase the capacity of dairy cows to maintain productivity and fitness in the face of stresses associated with climate change to support food security.

Science turns to resilience for heat tolerance

Several research groups across the world, for example in the UK, India, United States and Australia are researching the challenge of enhancing the resilience of livestock to climatic variability and climate change. They all essentially agree that animal agriculture’s adaptation to climate change should involve technological advances for climate resilient animals. However, continued selection for greater performance in the absence of consideration for heat tolerance will result in greater susceptibility to heat stress.

Scientists at the University of Armidale claim that for the concept of resilience the animal’s reactions with its environment are central. They characterise resilience as the capacity of the animal to return rapidly to its pre-challenge state following short-term exposure to a challenging situation. Therefore, resilience is a comparative measure of differences between animals in the impact of a challenge. Resilience can arise due to lower sensitivity or better adaptability to the challenge. Thus, resilience relies particularly on the reaction of the animal to stressors. Since, stress responses increase disease susceptibility, improving resilience of farm animals could also provide benefits for their health.

At the cellular level, acute environmental change initiates a “heat shock” or cellular stress response. Changes in gene expression associated with a reaction to an environmental stressor involves acute responses at the cellular level as well as changes in gene expression across a variety of organs and tissues associated with the acclimation response.

Gene expression profiling belongs to novel the approaches to identify higher number of transcripts and pathways related to stress tolerance mechanisms. It is known that genes reacting to a certain stress differ between organisms, species, breeds and even genotypes. The differences show in more efficient stress signal perception and transcriptional changes that can lead to successful adaptive response and adaptations and eventually further tolerance. Newer genomics approaches like next-generation sequencing (NGS) hold great promise for accelerating search for genes related to heat tolerance-related traits. NGS has been used to study variants in cattle to identify genes that contribute to heat tolerance.

Feeding for heat resilience

Improving the adaptive capacity of cows by nutritional means, can help to support resilience in cows to maintain performance under rising temperatures. Gut agility activators, such as Anco FIT are designed to support the cow to adapt to challenges including heat stress more efficiently by minimising stress reactions including oxidative stress at the cellular level, shifts in the rumen balance and reduced feed intake. Those stress reactions would otherwise impact performance, health and wellbeing of the cow. Research has shown that milk fat depression during heat stress can be linked to depressed rumen health. Therefore, optimising rumen function with a gut agility activator can help to reduce the negative impact of heat stress on milk fat and have been proven to be particularly effective, when cows were fed high concentrate diets. Feeding Anco FIT to cows in the hotter months, has been shown to maintain high milk fat and protein yields and low somatic cell counts, indicating that cows with Anco FIT in the diet were able to cope better with the heat, i.e. were more resilient.

Cows love a good on-off sprinkle

Of course, also physical strategies to help reduce heat stress are continuously being evaluated and improved. One of the most effective methods of cooling cows during summer is the use of water sprinklers. When given the choice, cows spend more and more time under sprinklers as the ambient temperature rises. Not having the sprinklers on continuously is more effective in terms of cooling cows, and it also helps to conserve water. The sprinklers should cycle on and off to wet cows and then let them dry off. Cooling is more effective if cows are soaked to the skin during the on time and then evaporative cooling occurs during the off time with fan air. Sprinkler and fan cooling resulted in lower body temperatures and respiration rates, improved dry matter intake and milk yield. However, sprinklers are not recommended in environments where relative humidity could reach over 75% due to the increase in humidity associated with these systems.

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Polish dairy farmers gearing up for summer heat

At the end of April about 50 Polish dairy farmers gathered at a dairy seminar for new insights on managing heat stress in dairy cows. The seminar was organized by Noack Poland, who is distributor for Anco FIT products.

Jędrzej Staniszkis, Ruminant Additives Manager at Noack says: ”Predicting and assessing heat stress in dairy cows has recently been reviewed by researchers at the University of Agriculture in Krakow. We wanted to encourage the exchange of experience between Polish dairy farmers and also highlight the tools we have available to support dairy farmers when it comes to managing heat stress in cows. Although we live in a moderate climate, temperatures can shoot up to 30-35 degrees Celsius in Poland, when warm currents arrive from the south-east. Heat stress can cause significant losses in milk production, particularly in high producing dairy cows. We hope dairy farmers attending our seminar gained some new insights and are now feeling prepared to successfully manage their cows during the summer.”

Herbut el al (2018) from the University of Agriculture in Krakow demonstrated that heat stress can already occur at an air temperature of 20°C in Holstein-Friesian cows bred in moderate climates. However, it does also depend on the length of exposure to the temperature. Their results showed that in June 100 hours with temperatures >20C interrupted by a maximum of 3-4 h of rest (temperatures <20C) may cause a decline in milk yield by around 1.5kg But, milk loss can go up to 5kg with 200 hours under the same conditions.

Dairy consultant Hilmar Gerhardt shared some practical tips on feeding dairy cows during the summer months to maintain milk production and quality, when the days get hotter. He also highlighted the benefits of adding Anco FIT to dairy rations to reduce the negative impact of heat stress on cows. Feeding Anco FIT can help to reduce oxidative stress, which is a common stress reaction in response to heat and has been associated with increased somatic cell counts. He comments: “Commercial trials carried out with Anco FIT during the summer months show the stabilizing effect it has on feed intake, milk production and milk quality.”


Herbut, P., Angrecka, S. and Walczak, J. (2018). Environmental parameters to assessing of heat stress in dairy cattle—a review. Int.J. Biometeorol 2018; 62(12): 2089–2097.

Herbut, P, Angrecka, S. and Godyń, D. (2018). Effect of the duration of high air temperature on cow’s milking performance in moderate climate conditions. Ann. Anim. Sci., 2018; Vol. 18, No. 1, 195–207