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Don't miss a lick: The benefits of saliva production during weaning

Fall is in full swing, and you may be feeling the stress of the seemingly endless to-do list between field work, cattle work or other duties. Calves may experience a similar feeling of stress at this time of the year and while weaning, as they encounter some really big changes. Oftentimes, stressed calves have reduced feed intake and an increase in stress hormone levels. This can have a deleterious effect on the immune system, which may result in weight loss and sick calves.

Sam Strahan recently blogged about using self-fed supplements to help ensure successful calf weaning by providing the essential minerals needed to combat stress, in addition to providing a palatable source of other critical nutrients.

When these supplements are provided to both cows and calves prior to weaning, the familiarity of barrels will be of great benefit to the calves during the weaning period. If calves aren’t provided barrels before weaning, strategically place barrels around the perimeter of the pen so they can see and come into contact with them as they circulate through the yard. Because of their curious nature, calves will find themselves licking the palatable product and starting to consume feed in the bunk much more quickly.

Related article: Supplementing for calf weaning success

In addition to obtaining valuable nutrients, the licking action itself is also very beneficial when utilizing self-fed supplements during weaning. As calves lick the barrel, they produce more saliva. Why is saliva important? The production of saliva is a key player to getting calves on feed through many advantageous functions.

Functions of saliva:

  1. Lubrication and taste: facilitates mastication (chewing) and swallowing of the bolus

  2. Enzymatic activity: contains lipases (enzymes that break down fat) that preferentially hydrolyze short-chain fatty acids from triglycerides, as well as amylase, which begins the breakdown of starch

  3. Source of nutrients for ruminal microorganisms: mucoprotein and urea serve as nitrogen sources, and electrolytes, particularly sodium, are growth factors for ruminal bacteria

  4. Influence nutrient removal rate from the rumen: important contributor to the fluidity of ruminal contents

  5. Buffering capacity: major function of saliva as bicarbonate and phosphate buffers

  6. Antifoaming agent: mucin is an effective antifoaming agent and serves a role in preventing bloat

  7. Source of antibodies: conveys antibodies to the rumen, although the extent of significance is not known at this time

Bartley, E.E. 1976. p. 61-81. In: Buffers in Ruminant Physiology and Metabolism. M.S.

Weinburg and A.L. Sheffner (Ed.), Church and Dwight, Inc., N.Y.

Saliva is often taken for granted, but it plays an important role in nutrient breakdown and the overall digestive processes, and it also encourages further consumption of the diet. Cattle produce between 10 to 45 gallons of saliva per day. The exact volume depends on what type of feedstuff is being consumed and the amount of time spent ruminating; roughage-based diets increase saliva production because of increased rumination activity, whereas concentrate-based diets reduce the amount of saliva produced.

But what if recently weaned calves aren’t hitting the feed bunks like they should? That’s where CRYSTALYX® self-fed supplements come in. Products such as Brigade® or Blueprint® Battalion® have been specifically fortified for pre- and post-weaned calves in mind. CRYSTALYX Brand Supplements offer an around-the-clock, highly palatable source of protein, energy, minerals and vitamins and will stimulate saliva production, enhance intake and increase digestibility — all while saving you time and labor. Don’t wean your calves without first rolling out a barrel!