Dr. Bucky Gwartney, director of protein food safety research at Diamond V’s home office in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

By Larry Stalcup, Contributing Editor

One of its newest products is helping producers and feeders strengthen an animal’s immune system and ultimately improve performance without antibiotics.ne of the beef industry’s most respected partners – Diamond V – celebrated its 75th year in 2018. The business has been a pioneer in developing unique, microbial fermentates for the health and performance of cattle and other species.

That product is NaturSafe®, a natural, immune support product designed to promote beef cattle health, performance and food safety. It consists of a unique combination of hundreds of bioactive compounds derived from Diamond V’s precision microbial fermentation processes. NaturSafe supports the animal’s immune system, including the innate immune system calves are born with.

“The bioactive compounds in NaturSafe optimize the gut microbiome in beef cattle,” says Dr. Bucky Gwartney, director of protein food safety research at Diamond V’s home office in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. “NaturSafe promotes rumen health and gastrointestinal integrity, supports the immune system and optimizes energy partitioning.”

Non-antibiotic technology 

NaturSafe was initially available in certain parts of the U.S. starting in 2016. Diamond V introduced it as a new standard for responsible beef production, knowing that people in the cattle business needed a good reason to change what has worked well in the past. It’s probably in their genes.

While new technologies like smartphones, tablets and social media are virtually embedded in many ranch and feedyard operations, producers and feeders still trust well-established methods of managing animal health and improving gain. If it ain’t broke …

But if consumers and retailers – ranging from fast-food kings to supermarkets – want beef they believe is safer and more sustainable for their families, customers and the environment, then changing how beef is produced is inevitable.

More major food companies and manufacturers are calling for beef and other meats produced without the aid of antibiotics. The recently implemented federal Veterinary Feed Directive eliminates the use of many antibiotics for production purposes such as growth promotion and feed efficiency, and brings their use in feed and water under veterinary supervision.

There is concern that some of the industry’s most dependable animal health products may be lost due to outside pressure. However, Gwartney says research and field experience show that NaturSafe provides effective, non-antibiotic technology for growth promotion in fed-cattle operations.

NaturSafe became available in all U.S. markets in 2017. “Antibiotic stewardship is vital to the beef industry,” Gwartney says. “NaturSafe addresses concerns about the safety of beef products, the use of antibiotics in animal production and the preservation of antibiotic effectiveness, both in animals and humans.”

Fewer pulls, better performance 

Even though a natural feed additive is non-antibiotic, it must more than pay for itself. It must still support good animal health and strong gain. There’s no relief in today’s thin cattle production margins, so better performance is a must.

Gwartney says NaturSafe has a proven track record for helping boost performance, both at the feedyard and at the ranch. It builds on the proven benefits of Diamond V’s Original XPC™ product, which promotes better digestive health. NaturSafe takes it an extra step in promoting a stronger immune system.

Craig Belknap, Diamond V beef business and technical manager, adds that research and private feeding experiences show NaturSafe helps producers and feeders maintain the animal’s normal digestive and liver health while improving overall health and wellbeing under all conditions.

Joe Klute of Phelps County Feeders near Holdrege, Neb., feeds both conventional and natural cattle. Some are high-risk. He says NaturSafe provides a strong feed-conversion ratio and solid gains while reducing pulls and death losses in high-risk cattle.

He notes that in July 2016, the feedyard procured four- and five-weight calves from numerous sources in Ohio. “Initially, we decided to incorporate NaturSafe in our East Yard supplements to potentially pick up better feed conversion in our natural cattle,” Klute says. “It was a recipe for disaster,” considering their origin and being placed in with 15,000 other cattle.

“But we started running the numbers and found that NaturSafe was really working on calves that, by the odds, should have been facing significant health challenges.”

He says those first groups of calves placed that summer were on feed 257 days. They experienced only a 1.9 percent death loss with the NaturSafe program. With their background and the region’s weather extremes, death losses had been projected from 3 to 7 percent.

Pull rates were dramatically reduced. In the previous year’s October-placed calves (2015), Phelps County Feeders had a 27 percent first-treatment pull rate within the first 30 days and a 45 percent second-pull, or re-treatment, rate. The next year (2016 calves) using NaturSafe, they had a 24 percent first pull rate and a 4.7 percent second pull rate in the first 30 days.

“When we’re treating them, they’re getting better as opposed to getting sick and dying,” Klute says. “We’re not re-pulling as many cattle, so both our veterinary and labor costs are down.”

While NaturSafe can benefit cattle in an all-natural program, it is also proven in conventional cattle, Belknap says. In a field trial he cites more than 20,000 cattle consisting of steers and heifers were monitored at another commercial feedyard in Nebraska.

At processing, about 11,600 head were given a metaphylactic antibiotic (oxytetracycline) 300 Pro-LA at an injection rate of 4.5 ml/cwt. Their health and performance records were compared to about 8,600 cattle that received NaturSafe in a liquid supplement in both their starter and finisher rations.

However, NaturSafe cattle received no metaphylactic antibiotic at processing. Average arrival weights of both groups of cattle ranged from 500-899 pounds, while finished weights averaged between 1,200 and 1,499 pounds.

Lot closeout data was used to summarize cattle health and performance. Data was rated based on the number of animals received in each lot. Here are key results:

nð ADG was 0.28 pounds per head higher for the NaturSafe cattle, nearly 10 percent better.

“Fed cattle on a NaturSafe program simply start healthier and maintain that health and performance advantage all the way to finish,” Belknap says. “It helps get cattle to the bunk faster and enhances average daily gain while reducing the number of sick cattle.”

Easy to use

The product’s ease of distribution enables it to be practical in any feedlot, backgrounding or grazing program, Belknap adds. It can be incorporated into dry or liquid supplements, loose mineral products, blocks and tubs, or even pelleted. It requires no refrigeration. In its free-flowing granular form, NaturSafe is easily used in modern micro-ingredient proportioning systems in premixing and feed manufacturing.

Since NaturSafe is not a drug, it doesn’t require a Veterinary Feed Directive.

Better food safety

Gwartney points out that “pre-harvest” or on-farm food safety has become a major factor in Diamond V’s research and product development in recent years.

“At the farm, ranch or feedyard, increased biosecurity, better hygiene, improved management and animal care, and feed security all play critical roles in promoting food safety,” he says. “However, it’s going to take innovative tools such as immune support technologies to reduce the risk of pathogens in food processing and assure greater food safety.”

Among the most dangerous pathogens are Salmonella and E. coli, which can present critical food safety hazards. They can be easily spread through fecal matter at the feedyard and can contaminate hides and carcasses if not controlled.

Beef packing facilities clean carcasses and hides when cattle are harvested. But any efforts that can control Salmonella or E. coli at the ranch or feedyard are initial steps in preventing these health hazards from reaching consumers. Without growth-promoting or subtherapeutic antibiotics in the feed, the challenge is greater than ever.

“Better antibiotic stewardship at the farm supports the public health goal of preserving the efficacy of antibiotics,” Belknap says. “Retailers and consumers are demanding a reduction of antibiotic usage.

“If we can reduce the need for antibiotics by building a stronger immune system in cattle, we can improve the efficacy of antibiotics when they are needed. It’s the right thing to do.”

The industry can expect to see more pressure on cattle handling and production in 2019 and beyond. There must be new products available that will satisfy consumer concerns relating to both food safety and antibiotic stewardship. Products like NaturSafe are needed to help appease these concerns.

However, to be effective these products must promote powerful cattle performance. If not, change among producers and feeders will be more difficult.

For more about NaturSafe, visit http://www.diamondv.com/wp-content/uploads/productprofile_natursafe.pdf.