Provita Protect fights back against calf scours on award winning organic dairy farm

Jack Saunders, who manages Step Farm with his father Miles Saunders, has recently been using Provita Protect to prevent calf scours on the farm. Jack is the 4th generation on the family farm which switched to organic in 1982. The Oxfordshire farm is one of the largest organic farms in the country, consisting of 2,000 acres and 1,000 head of livestock including a 420-cow milking herd. From October to March, cattle are kept in spacious sheds with cubicles and plenty of outdoor space to roam. They are fed a TMR consisting of home grown, clover-rich grass silage and concentrate partly fed from in-parlour feeders. In the summer months, they live outdoors 24/7 and graze mixes of herbal and clover leys. The entire family are passionate about organic food, reducing food miles and exceptional animal welfare.

The farm supplies milk to independent milk buyer Berkeley Farm Dairies, located locally in Swindon, Wiltshire, where the milk is processed and made into butter, yoghurt and kefir. The milk and products are used for the company’s doorstep delivery service “10 Green Bottles” as well as Abel & Cole veg boxes.

The farm raises its own replacement heifers and organic beef cattle each year, with 160 calves being born in September and the calving period ending in April. This extended calving period suits the demands of the milk buyer who require a regular, level supply year-round.

After spending 48 hours with the cow, calves are reared in a spacious and well-ventilated dedicated calf shed consisting of four groups of 10 calves. The calves start off in the lower group and work their way up the shed within their age group until moving into outdoor calf hutches consisting of 10 or more calves with a large outdoor area. All calves are reared on straw bedding which is topped up daily and thoroughly cleaned out fortnightly. Calves receive ad-lib hay from 2 weeks old and 2kg/head concentrate from 8 weeks old. They are fed 3.5 litres of organic milk twice daily, using individual teat feeders up to 1 week old and 10 teat feeders after this. Calves are weaned at 11-12 weeks of age and receive concentrate and silage thereafter.

Until October 2023, the farm had very few incidences of calf disease, with occasional pneumonia being the only issues. After thoroughly digging, cleaning out and re-concreting the calving shed opposite the calf shed, an outbreak of rotavirus and cryptosporidium occurred in calves 5 days to 1 week old, resulting in the loss of 15 calves in a 3-month period. Immediately, the calf shed was isolated and thoroughly disinfected. Any new calves were kept in a separate ‘uninfected’ area away from the shed. However there was only so much space elsewhere and after a few weeks new calves had to be moved into the calf shed. Soon after, another outbreak occurred, so the process was repeated, and the family were at a loss on what to do.

Jack started using Provita Protect on all isolated new-born calves after a recommendation in January 2024. Soon after, the incidence of calf scours declined, and calf mortality dropped.

Provita Protect is the only medically licensed probiotic in the UK and Ireland. It contains unique triple-strain 10 billion probiotic bacteria per course, which are introduced into the calf’s gut. The high level of beneficial bacteria improves the gut microflora which boosts the calf’s immunity in the gut as well as other organs such as the lungs. The beneficial bacteria also physically exclude and compete with harmful pathogens in the gut, as well as closing the tight junctions in the gut, preventing ‘leaky gut’ syndrome and reducing calf scour by an average of 83%. By boosting immunity in the lungs, Protect also helps to reduce incidences of pneumonia in calves by an average of 70%. Lactic acid produced by the probiotics lower the gut pH, which further inhibits pathogens and improves digestion. The positive effects of Protect are proven to increase growth rates by 31% and calves given Protect are 10% heavier at weaning.

After a few weeks, the situation on Jack’s farm was looking a lot more positive. However, due to multiple short-lived staff abscences, the use of Provita Protect was overlooked for a week, resulting in the return of scours and the loss of one more calf.

“I could soon tell that Provita Protect wasn’t being used! It had made a huge difference and not using it even for just a few days had a big impact. We won’t be making that mistake again.” Said Jack.

Protect was very quickly picked back up again, and no more incidences of scours have since been recorded on the farm. It is too early on to see whether this has helped to prevent pneumonia in the calves, since this occasionally occurs in calves 2-5 months old on the farm.

Protect can be used on new-born calves, bought-in calves, at times of stress or after antibiotic treatment. New-born calves should receive 5ml, then 2.5ml on day 2 and 3. At times of stress or after antibiotics, 2.5ml should be given per day as required.