Weaned beef calves fed selenium-biofortified alfalfa hay have an enriched nasal microbiota compared with healthy controls.
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Selenium (Se) is an essential trace mineral important for immune function and overall health of cattle. The nasopharyngeal microbiota in cattle plays an important role in overall respiratory health, especially when stresses associated with weaning, transport, and adaptation to a feedlot affect the normal respiratory defenses. Recent evidence suggests that cattle diagnosed with bovine respiratory disease complex have significantly less bacterial diversity. The objective of this study was to determine whether feeding weaned beef calves Se-enriched alfalfa (Medicago sativa) hay for 9 weeks in a preconditioning program prior to entering the feedlot alters nasal microbiota. Recently weaned beef calves (n = 45) were blocked by sex and body weight, randomly assigned to 3 treatment groups with 3 pens of 5 calves per treatment group, and fed an alfalfa hay based diet for 9 weeks. Alfalfa hay was harvested from fields fertilized with sodium selenate at a rate of 0, 45.0 or 89.9 g Se/ha. Blood samples were collected biweekly and analyzed for whole-blood Se concentrations. Nasal swabs were collected during week 9 from one or two calves from each pen (total n = 16). Calculated Se intake from dietary sources was 3.0, 15.6, and 32.2 mg Se/head/day for calves consuming alfalfa hay with Se concentrations of 0.34 to 2.42 and 5.17 mg Se/kg dry matter, respectively. Whole-blood Se concentrations after 8 weeks of feeding Se-fertilized alfalfa hay were dependent upon Se-application rates (0, 45.0, or 89.9 g Se/ha) and were 155, 345, and 504 ng/mL (PLinear < 0.0001). Microbial DNA was extracted from nasal swabs and amplified and sequenced. Alpha rarefaction curves comparing the species richness (observed OTUs) and overall diversity (Chao1, Observed OTU, and Shannon index) between calves fed selenium-biofortified alfalfa hay compared with control calves showed that Se-supplementation tended to be associated with an enriched nasal microbiota. ANOSIM of unweighted UniFrac distances showed that calves fed high Se-biofortified alfalfa hay clustered separately when compared with control calves in the PCoA plot (R = 0.216, P = 0.04). The bacterial orders Lactobacillales and Flavobacteriales were increased in healthy control calves compared with Clostridiales and Bacteroidales being increased in calves fed Se-biofortified alfalfa hay. Although there were strong trends, no significant differences were noted for any of the bacterial taxa. Based upon these findings, we suggest that weaned beef calves fed Se-biofortified hay tend to have an enriched nasal microbiota. Feeding Se-biofortified alfalfa hay to weaned beef calves prior to entering the feedlot is a strategy for increasing nasopharyngeal microbial diversity.