Effects of supplementation with a phytobiotics-rich herbal mixture on performance, udder health, and metabolic status of Holstein
This study evaluated the effects of dietary supplementation of a novel phytobiotics-rich herbal mixture (PRHM) on feed intake, performance, udder health, ruminal fermentation, and plasma metabolites in cows with moderate or high somatic cell counts (SCC) in the milk. Twenty-four Holstein dairy cows (117 + 26 d in milk and 46.3 + 4.7 kg of milk/d at the start of the experiment) were blocked by parity and days in milk and split into 2 groups, based on SCC in the milk; 12 cows were with moderate SCC (260,000 < SCC <500,000 cells/mL), whereas 12 other cows had high levels of SCC (>500,000 cells/mL) in the milk. Within each SCC group, cows were blocked by milk yield and parity, and were randomly assigned to 2 different feeding regimens. Half of the cows in each SCC group (n = 6) were supplemented with PRHM (185 g/cow per day, providing 12.4 g of phenolic compounds per day), and the other half (n = 6) were not supplemented in their diets. The experiment lasted 36 d, whereby the first 24 d were used for adaptation to the diets and the last 12 d for sampling. Data showed that supplementation of PRHM decreased somatic cell score in the milk, indicating improved udder health of cows with high initial SCC, but not in cows with moderate SCC. Also, cows supplemented with PRHM consumed more feed DM, produced greater amounts of milk, and showed an improvement of feed utilization efficiency. However, these cows also lost more back-fat thickness during the experiment. Supplementation of PRHM increased fat- and energy-corrected milk yields in cows with high initial SCC, but not in cows with moderate SCC. Supplementation of PRHM decreased milk fat content, whereas other milk components were not affected by PRHM feeding. The PRHM supplementation decreased the acetate-to-propionate ratio in the rumen fluid, but increased β-hydroxybutyrate and cholesterol concentration in the plasma, irrespective of the initial SCC level in the milk. Other plasma metabolites and liver enzymes were not affected by PRHM supplementation. Apparent nutrient digestibility did not differ among treatments. Overall, supplementation of PRHM seems to be an effective strategy to enhance performance and lower SCC, particularly in cows having high SCC levels in the milk. Further research is warranted to evaluate long-term effects of PRHM supplementation, especially with regard to metabolic health status and reproduction.