Ask the Vet

Prebiotics and Probiotics

Keep track of data when trying a prebiotic or probiotic as part of your management plan.(Progressive Farmer photo by Chris Clayton)


There has been a lot of talk about probiotics for years, and now I am hearing more about prebiotics in livestock feeds. Can you explains what these things are and what they actually do?


Probiotics are essentially “good bugs,” including bacteria and yeasts, fed to improve digestion and overall health. Prebiotics are non-digestible, soluble fibers that feed and help these bugs grow and multiply.

There are probiotics that can help improve feed efficiency and others that can improve immune function. Some probiotics work in the rumen to improve its function, while others help maintain a healthy intestinal tract. Since probiotics are living organisms, they and the feeds they are in must be properly handled at each stage. Read what the manufacturer says pertaining to proper storage, and follow those recommendations. Dead bugs won't do you much good.

It's a good idea to talk to producers in the area who have used some of these products for a season or two. Much of the research that's been done on these type products comes from the manufacturers, and conditions they've tested those products in may not bear much resemblance to your operation. So, talk to other producers, ask your herd veterinarian for his or her thoughts, and if you decide to try any of these products, keep track of your own data so you'll be able to prove to yourself whether they are effective in your environment.