Evaluating benefits of neonatal calf gut-originated probiotics, as direct-fed microbials (DFMs), during the weaning transition to improve calf health

Project Overview

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2023: $349,875.00
Projected End Date: 08/31/2026
Host Institution Award ID: G319-23-W9981
Grant Recipient: University of Idaho
Region: Western
State: Idaho
Principal Investigator:
Dr. Denise Konetchy, DVM
University of Idaho
Dr. Amin Ahmadzadeh, PhD
University of Idaho
Dr. Leluo Guan, PhD
University of Alberta
Dr. Anne Laarman, PhD
University of Alberta
Pedram Rezamand
University of Idaho
Dr. Hernan Tejeda
University of Idaho
Dr. Joseph Dalton
University of Idaho

Information Products


  • Animals: bovine
  • Animal Products: dairy


  • Animal Production: animal protection and health, feed additives, preventive practices, probiotics
  • Education and Training: demonstration, extension, on-farm/ranch research, workshop
  • Farm Business Management: agricultural finance

    Proposal abstract:

    Diarrhea is an early-life health issue in dairy calves and is strongly related to morbidity and mortality in the first weeks of life. Diarrhea is usually treated with antimicrobials; however, governmental organizations have strongly regulated antimicrobial use in cattle production to reduce antimicrobial resistance (AMR) in humans and animals. Weaning is a challenging event in the calf’s life, and depending on how it is conducted, it can lead to short- and long-term consequences such as inflammation and diarrhea. Therefore, it is important to find an alternative means to prevent diarrhea and potentially reduce the need for antimicrobial treatments on dairy farms and raise awareness of AMR for farm employees and producers.

    Our objective is new and innovative: to evaluate the benefits to calf health and performance when neonatal calves are fed gut-originated bovine direct-fed microbial (bDFM) during two methods of weaning transition (abrupt and gradual). Bifidobacteria and Lactobacilli species (direct-fed microbes) have the capacity to enhance gut barrier functions, preventing pathogenic colonization, reducing stress during weaning, and improving average daily gain. Direct-fed microbes (DFM) also have the potential to reduce the use of antimicrobials in the livestock industry, which reduces the exposure of antimicrobials in animals and humans. Recent research has shown that host-specific microbes, when used as bDFM, increase beneficial bacteria and reduce pathogenic microbial populations in the host animal. In this proposal, we will evaluate the potential benefits of bDFM on calf health, inflammatory response during weaning, and performance through the first lactation when administered during the weaning transition period.  Reducing morbidity combined with greater performance should result in increased profitability for dairy farms. Reducing antimicrobial use and exposure is a step towards reducing AMR in animal and humans as well as increasing the level of awareness of AMR in humans who work in dairy animal health and production settings. The outcomes from this research, along with current knowledge in calf management, nutrition, health, and weaning methods will be disseminated through webinars, social media, websites, Extension workshops, and field days to producers, farm employees, consultants, veterinarians. Additionally, we will educate university-level Animal Science students within the Pacific Northwest region through classroom instruction. Current knowledge and research results will be inserted into three courses taught regularly at the University of Idaho to animal science students including AVFS 471 (Animal Disease Management), AVFS 472 (Dairy Management), and AVFS 411 (Ruminant Nutrition). All courses will be made available for online use by other regional universities.



    Project objectives from proposal:

    • Research objectives

    Objective I: Evaluate benefits of neonatal calf gut-originated bDFM during the weaning transition to improve heifer calves’ health and performance

    Objective II: Evaluate benefits of neonatal calf gut-originated bDFM during the weaning transition to modulate health of male calves, local inflammatory response, and performance

    Objective III: Determine the economic impact of the bDFM supplementation during the weaning transition on dairy farm profitability


    • Educational objectives

    Objective I-E: Disseminate information and educate the public about the benefits of using bDFM and the reductions on antimicrobial demand and resistance using podcasts and webinars

    Objective II-E: Disseminate information via Extension Workshops and Field Days

    Objective III-E: Disseminate information regarding the use of bDFM associated with weaning strategies on social media and websites

    Objective IV-E: Disseminate the results from the present project supported with the current literature for Animal Science students

    Objective V-E: Present research results at annual meetings and publish scientific articles


    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.