Early calf nutrition shapes future growth

Early calf nutrition shapes future growth

*John D. Arthington is with the University of Florida Range Cattle Research & Education Center in Ona, Fla. Philipe Moriel is with the North Carolina State University Mountain Research Station in Waynesville, N.C. To expedite answers to questions concerning this column, please direct inquiries to Feedstuffs, Bottom Line of Nutrition, 5810 W. 78th St., Suite 200, Bloomington, Minn. 55439, or email [email protected]

RECENTLY, there has been significant concern about the effects of nutrition during the early stages of life in both people and animals on subsequent human health and animal production.

Data from human epidemiologic studies suggest that postnatal nutrition affects the risk for developing adult obesity, type 2 diabetes, hypertension and heart disease (Lucas, 1991).

Such events occur because organ development in most mammalian species is not yet completed at birth and continues in the immediate postnatal period. Thus, nutrition during early-postnatal life may permanently change the physiology and metabolism of the organism and have long-term consequences for the animal. This process is called "metabolic imprinting" (Lucas, 1991).

A large potential exists for the application of metabolic imprinting on preventive approaches to improve human health.

Also, the concept that metabolic imprinting may permanently affect animal development has economic implications for agriculture and should be explored in order to improve the performance of animals destined for food production.

 

Dairy cattle

During the first 45-60 days following birth, conventional methods of dairy calf feeding provide milk or milk replacer (crude protein and fat levels were 20-22% of dry matter [DM]) at approximately 10% of calf bodyweight (as-fed basis). Conversely, intensified nutrition methods provide milk or milk replacer with greater concentrations of protein and less fat (20-30% crude protein and less than 20% fat on a DM basis) at approximately 20% of calf bodyweight.

Intensified nutrition methods increase the efficiency of calf bodyweight gain, enhance serum concentrations of immunoglobulins A and G that are essential for calf immunity (Khan et al., 2007) and anticipate puberty achievement of dairy heifers by 29 days compared with heifers provided conventional milk replacer (Davis-Rincker et al., 2011).

Contrary to expectations, intensive calf nutrition from birth to 60 days of age was found to improve mammary gland growth (Brown et al., 2005) and enhance milk production at first lactation by 1,500 lb. for every 1 lb. increase of preweaning calf average daily gain (Soberon and Van Amburg, 2013).

 

Beef calves

Early weaning (EW) is a management practice consisting of permanent calf removal at ages often younger than five months.

EW improves the reproductive performance of primiparous beef cows when performed prior to the breeding season (Arthington and Kalmbacher, 2003), anticipates puberty achievement of Bos taurus heifers (Gasser et al., 2006), increases the growth performance of beef steers during the receiving feedlot period (Arthington et al., 2005) and enhances the carcass quality and marbling scores of beef steers fed high-concentrate diets immediately following weaning (Myers et al., 1999).

However, few beef producers are willing to adopt this management practice due to the lack of information on nutritional management of early-weaned calves. Therefore, our laboratory evaluated different calf management systems for early-weaned beef calves and the long-term consequences on calf performance in two experiments.

Experiment 1 evaluated the growth performance, carcass characteristics and muscle gene expression of beef steers, while experiment 2 evaluated the liver gene expression, growth and reproductive performance of beef heifers.

In both experiments, calves were either normally weaned (NW) at 250 days of age (day 180 of the study) or early weaned (EW) at 70 days of age (day 0) and randomly assigned to one of three EW calf management systems: (1) EW and grazed on ryegrass and bahiagrass pastures until day 180 (EWPAST), (2) EW and limit-fed a high-concentrate diet in drylot for at least 180 days (EW180) or (3) EW and limit-fed a high-concentrate diet in drylot for 90 days and then grazed on bahiagrass pastures until day 180 (EW90).

Calves in drylot were limit-fed the high-concentrate diet at 3.5% of bodyweight (as-fed basis), whereas EW calves on pasture were supplemented with the same high-concentrate diet at 1.0% of bodyweight (as-fed basis).

 

Steers

Experiment 1 demonstrated that the overall growth performance of EW steers was similar to or greater than NW steers (Table 1) throughout the entire study.

EW calves fed a high-concentrate diet in drylot for at least 90 days (EW90 and EW180 steers) were heavier at the time of NW and at shipping (day 260) compared to NW and EWPAST steers. However, early exposure to high-concentrate diets did not affect the overall carcass characteristics and marbling scores of steers slaughtered at a common back fat thickness (Table 1).

Of 13 studies comparing carcass characteristics of EW versus NW steers, only half of the studies reported greater marbling scores for EW steers than NW steers. Reasons for the inconsistent results among those studies and experiment 1 may be attributed to differences related to a common end point at slaughter (bodyweight, age or back fat thickness), breed, calf age at the start of the study, diet composition (for instance, starch concentration), the timing and quantity of steroid implantation or an interaction among all of those factors.

Nevertheless, nutrition during early stages of postnatal life has a large potential to influence the growth performance and carcass characteristics of beef steers and deserves further evaluations.

 

Heifers

Experiment 2 demonstrated that EW heifers limit-fed a high-concentrate diet for at least 90 days in drylot and EW heifers grazed on pastures and supplemented with concentrate at 1% of bodyweight for the entire study had growth performance similar to or greater than NW heifers (Table 2).

From day 180 until the end of the breeding season on day 395, heifers were grouped by treatment and supplemented with concentrate at 1.5% of bodyweight (as-fed basis). During this period, no differences were detected among treatments for average daily gain, which was 1.52, 1.60, 1.36 and 1.54 lb. per day for the NW, EWPAST, EW180 and EW90 heifers, respectively.

What's interesting, limit-feeding a high-concentrate diet in drylot for at least 90 days increased the percentage of pubertal heifers at the start of the breeding season (day 335) compared to NW heifers (Table 2). In particular, a greater percentage of EW90 heifers than NW heifers achieved puberty at the start of the breeding season despite having similar bodyweight and average daily gain from the time of normal weaning until the end of the breeding season.

This response indicates that early puberty attainment may be achieved if heifers are exposed to high-concentrate diets and high growth rates at a young age (approximately 70 days of age). In addition, the data suggest that the age at puberty decreased by nearly 58 days for every 1 lb. increase in average daily gain of heifers from day 0 to day 90 (70-160 days of age).

Bos indicus-influenced heifers represent the majority of heifers in the southern U.S., and they often reach puberty at older ages than B. taurus beef heifers. Thus, these results support the concept that puberty achievement of EW heifers was associated with a critical window (approximately 70 days following EW) in which enhanced nutrient intake and growth performance led to early activation of the reproductive axis.

No differences were detected in the percentage of pregnant heifers following a 60-day breeding season, which can be attributed to the small number of heifers in each treatment.

 

The Bottom Line

In summary, metabolic imprinting is the process by which nutrition during early life may permanently affect the metabolism and performance of livestock. Intensive dairy calf nutrition leads to more efficient bodyweight gain, earlier puberty attainment and increased milk production.

Also, early exposure of EW beef steers to high-concentrate diets may enhance the growth performance and carcass characteristics of beef steers as well as enhance the growth performance and anticipate puberty achievement of beef heifers.

Thus, identifying strategies that enhance calf performance during early postnatal life may provide unique opportunities to optimize feed resources and increase the profitability of dairy and beef cattle management systems.

 

References

Arthington, J.D., and R.S. Kalmbacher. 2003. Effect of early weaning on the performance of three-year-old, first-calf beef heifers reared in the subtropics. J. Anim. Sci. 81:1136-1141.

Arthington, J.D., J.W. Spears and D.C. Miller. 2005. The effect of early weaning on feedlot performance and measures of stress in beef calves. J. Anim. Sci. 83:933-939.

Brown, E.G., M.J. VandeHaar and K.M. Daniels. 2005a. Effect of increasing energy and protein intake on body growth and carcass composition of heifer calves. J. Dairy Sci. 88:585-594.

Davis-Rincker, L.E., M.J. VanderHaar, C.A. Wolf, J.S. Liesman, L.T. Chapin and M.S. Weber Nielsen. 2011. Effect of intensified feeding of heifer calves on growth, pubertal age, calving age, milk yield and economics. J. Dairy Sci. 94:3554-3567.

Gasser, C.L., D.E. Grum, M.L. Mussard, F.L. Fluharty, J.E. Kinder and M.L. Day. 2006. Induction of precocious puberty in heifers I: Enhanced secretion of luteinizing hormone. J. Anim. Sci. 84:2035-2041.

Khan, M.A., H.J. Lee, W.S. Lee, H.S. Kim, K.S. Ki, T.Y. Hur, G.H. Suh, S.J. Kang and Y.J. Choi. 2007. Structural growth, rumen development and metabolic and immune responses of Holstein male calves fed milk through step-down and conventional methods. J. Dairy Sci. 90:3376-3387.

Lucas, A. 1991. Programming by early nutrition in man. Ciba Foundation Symposium. 156:38-50.

Myers, S.E., D.B. Faulkner, F.A. Ireland, L.L. Berger and D.F. Parrett. 1999. Production systems comparing early weaning to normal weaning with or without creep feeding for beef steers. J. Anim. Sci. 77:300-310.

Soberon, F., and M.E. Van Amburgh. 2013. The effect of nutrient intake from milk or milk replacer of preweaned dairy calves on lactation milk yield as adults: A meta-analysis of current data. J. Anim. Sci. 91:706-712.

 

1. Growth performance and carcass characteristics of beef steers developed in different calf management systems from the time of early weaning until shipping (experiment 1)

 

-Treatments-

Std. error

 

Item

NW

EWPAST

EW180

EW90

of means

P-value

Bodyweight, lb.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Day 0 (EW)

189

198

203

203

9.2

0.64

Day 180 (NW)

475a

432a

652b

535c

19.7

<0.01

Day 260 (shipping)

504a

507a

793b

610c

25.6

<0.01

Slaughter

1,042

1,066

1,132

1,119

35.7

0.22

Days on finishing diet

202bc

227c

141a

187b

14.9

0.002

Hot carcass weight, lb.

650

663

707

705

22.5

0.22

Yield grade

3.12

3.14

3.15

2.98

0.196

0.91

Marbling

404

418

401

456

41.4

0.75

a,b,cWithin a row, means without a common superscript differ (P < 0.05).

 

2. Growth and reproductive performance of beef heifers developed on different calf management systems from the time of early weaning until the time of normal weaning (experiment 2)

 

-Treatments-

Std. error

 

Item

NW

EWPAST

EW180

EW90

of means

P-value

Bodyweight*, lb.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Day 90

306a

297a

361b

376b

8.1

<0.001

Day 180

467a

392b

577c

476a

14.1

<0.001

Day 335

712a

643b

800c

720a

17.5

<0.001

Age at puberty, days

429a

418a

298b

358c

14.9

<0.001

Bodyweight at puberty, lb.

753a

674b

629b

643b

26.2

0.09

Pubertal heifers on day 335, % of total heifers

30a

40a

100b

80b

13.2

0.002

Pregnant heifers, % of total heifers

60

50

78

70

15.6

0.64

*From day 180 to the end of the 60-day breeding season (days 335-395), heifers were grouped by treatment and rotated among bahiagrass pastures every 10 days and were provided concentrate supplementation at 1.5% of bodyweight.

a,b,cWithin a row, means without a common superscript differ (P < 0.05).

 

Volume:85 Issue:38

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