Trial may be of global importance

The Clutha Agricultural Development Board's latest project, on the value of probiotics to calves in their first few weeks of life, is believed to be of national and possibly international importance.

The project involved about 300 calves on three farms in the Clutha district.

In New Zealand, only one limited study of the possible weight gain and health benefits to calves has been done previously, and the board was thought to be undertaking a "significant study of national and perhaps international importance", the board said.

Calves have been paired in groups of between 12 and 20, one group receiving 20ml per calf per day of a probiotic supplement, and a matched group in terms of starting weights and birth dates acting as a control group.

The project team used a fresh probiotic supplement, which has millions of lactobacilli per dose.

There were 10 such grouped pairs on farms in West Otago, near Clinton and near Balclutha. All calves were being weighed weekly on each farm.

"Each farm has a slightly different calf-rearing system, but we have tried to match supplement and control groups so that the probiotic has been the only variable," the board's projects manager, Malcolm Deverson, said.

The trial is funded by the Sustainable Farming Fund and DairyNZ.

The completed seven weeks of data would be in the hands of the science analysts soon and results were likely to be available in the new year, he said.