By Rick Lundquist
An interesting application for a human medication designed to control blood glucose was reported in a recent Journal of Dairy Science paper. Acarbose is an amylase and glucosidase inhibitor that is commercially available for diabetics. Now researchers are looking at it to slow the rate of starch degradation in cattle when high grain diets are fed.
Previous studies with acarbose have shown that it increased ruminal pH and reduced lactate levels in Holstein steers with acidosis. In a recent study, early lactation cows were fed a 70% concentrate diet to induce the symptoms of subacute ruminal acidosis (SARA). In addition, cows were fasted 3 hours before their normal morning feeding to induce them to eat faster and mimic slug feeding of grain. The ADF was about 11% and NDF was about 20% on these diets, so they were very low fiber rations.
Feed intake, milk fat and fat corrected milk was significantly increased on these rations when acarbose was included at 0.75 grams/cow per day. Milk fat was only 2.66% on the control diets, but increased to 3.14% when acarbose was fed. Fat corrected milk was over 6 lb. higher on the acarbose diets.
It’s intriguing that a product designed to aid people with diabetes can be adapted for practical uses in cattle. This product could be very useful for transitioning cows from the dry cow ration to higher grain lactating rations. If it is marketed at a cost effective price, it could also have other uses for controlling the rate of carbohydrate fermentation. If the results of feeding acarbose were predictable, I could see using it as a tool in ration balancing models. Additional research with acarbose on more normal dairy diets would also be interesting.
Reference: Effect of acarbose on milk yield and composition in early-lactation dairy cattle fed a ration to induce subacute ruminal acidosis. Journal of Dairy Science. 92:4481-4488.
--Rick Lundquist is an independent nutrition and management consultant based in Duluth, Minn. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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