Effectiveness of zinc supplementation on diarrhea and average daily gain in preweaned dairy calves: A double-blind, blockrandomized, placebo-controlled clinical trial

Hillary R. Feldmann, Deniece R. Williams, John D. Champagne, Terry W Lehenbauer, Sharif S Aly

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3 Scopus citations


The objective of this clinical trial was to evaluate the effectiveness of zinc supplementation on diarrhea and average daily weight gain (ADG) in pre-weaned dairy calves. A total of 1,482 healthy Holstein heifer and bull calves from a large California dairy were enrolled at 24 to 48 hours of age until hutch exit at approximately 90 days of age. Calves were block-randomized by time to one of three treatments: 1) placebo, 2) zinc methionine (ZM), or 3) zinc sulfate (ZS) administered in milk once daily for 14 days. Serum total protein at enrollment and body weight at birth, treatment end, and hutch exit were measured. Fecal consistency was assessed daily for 28 days post-enrollment. For a random sample of 127 calves, serum zinc concentrations before and after treatment and a fecal antigen ELISA at diarrhea start and resolution for Escherichia coli K99, rotavirus, coronavirus, and Cryptosporidium parvum were performed. Linear regression showed that ZM-treated bull calves had 22 g increased ADG compared to placebo-treated bulls (P = 0.042). ZM-treated heifers had 9 g decreased ADG compared to placebo-treated heifers (P = 0.037), after adjusting for average birth weight. Sex-stratified models showed that high birth weight heifers treated with ZM gained more than placebo-treated heifers of the same birth weight, which suggests a doseresponse effect rather than a true sex-specific effect of ZM on ADG. Cox regression showed that ZM and ZS-treated calves had a 14.7% (P = 0.015) and 13.9% (P = 0.022) reduced hazard of diarrhea, respectively, compared to placebo-treated calves. Calves supplemented for at least the first five days of diarrhea with ZM and ZS had a 21.4% (P = 0.027) and 13.0% (P = 0.040) increased hazard of cure from diarrhea, respectively, compared to placebo-treated calves. Logistic regression showed that the odds of microbiological cure at diarrhea resolution for rotavirus, C. parvum, or any single fecal pathogen was not different between treatment groups. Zinc supplementation delayed diarrhea and expedited diarrhea recovery in pre-weaned calves. Additionally, zinc improved weight gain differentially in bulls compared to heifers, indicating a research need for sex-specific dosing.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere0219321
JournalPloS one
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jan 1 2019


ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)

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