A pinboard by
Jolet Kohler

PhD, University of Alberta


In recent years, there has been considerable interest in feeding dairy calves larger amounts of milk pre-weaning. We know that larger amounts of milk result in greater growth and feed efficiency pre-weaning but can negatively impact nutrient digestibility and growth post-weaning. This is likely due to a delay in rumen (stomach) development. Calf starter feeds containing readily fermentable carbohydrates are fermented in the rumen and subsequently initiate rumen development in young calves. Mechanical alterations during grain processing enhance surface area exposure and was reported to improve ruminal and starch digestibility of cereal grains. Some processing, such as steam-rolling, is necessary to break the pericarp of the grain and can improve the starch fermentability and digestibility, however, it may also lead to increased risk of ruminal acidosis depending on the extent of ruminal digestion. Furthermore, grain-induced subacute ruminal acidosis has been shown to increase the lysis of gram-negative bacteria not only in the rumen but also in the lower gut which may lead to the translocation of lipopolysaccharide into the peripheral circulation which triggers a systemic inflammatory response in dairy cows. Moreover, shifting starch fermentation to the lower gut causes hindgut acidosis and damage to the gut epithelium in dairy cows. All these findings are reported from adult animals, evidence of ruminal and lower gut acidosis from studies using dairy calves during weaning remains scarce. There is limited information regarding the effects of these two feeding strategies (plane of nutrition and source of starch in starter) on rumen fermentation, digestion of nutrients in the gut, the integrity of the lower gut epithelium, gastrointestinal microbiota, gut inflammatory response and consequently the performance of dairy calves both during the pre- and post-weaning.


Structural growth, rumen development, and metabolic and immune responses of Holstein male calves fed milk through step-down and conventional methods.

Abstract: Structural growth, feed consumption, rumen development, metabolic response, and immune response were studied in Holstein calves fed milk through either a conventional method or a step-down (STEP) method. In the conventional method, calves (n = 20) were fed colostrum and then milk at a rate of 10% of their BW for the entire period of 44 d. In the STEP method, calves (n = 20) were given colostrum and then milk at a rate of 20% of their BW for 23 d, which was reduced (between d 24 to 28) to 10% of their BW for the remaining 16 d. The calves on both methods were weaned gradually by diluting milk with water between d 45 and 49. After weaning, feed consumption, structural growth, and body weight gain were monitored until calves were 63 d of age. At d 63, twelve calves (6/treatment) were euthanized and rumen papillae length, papillae width, rumen wall thickness, and emptied forestomach weight were recorded. At wk 4, 7, and 9, ruminal contents were collected to enumerate rumen metabolites. The STEP-fed calves consumed a greater amount of milk than conventionally fed calves during the pre-STEP (d 1 to 28), post-STEP (d 29 to 49), and preweaning (d 1 to 49) periods. Consumption of starter and hay was greater during the pre-STEP period and lesser during the post-STEP and postweaning (d 50 to 63) periods in calves on the conventional method than on the STEP method. Body weight gain and structural growth measurements of calves were greater on the STEP method than on the conventional method. A hypophagic condition caused by greater milk consumption depressed solid feed intake of STEP-fed calves during the pre-STEP period, and a hyperphagic response caused by a reduced nutrient supply from milk triggered their consumption of solid feed during the post-STEP and postweaning periods. Ruminal pH and concentrations of ammonia, total volatile fatty acids, acetate, propionate, butyrate, and plasma beta-hydroxybutyrate were higher in calves on the STEP method and at weaning and postweaning (d 63) were lower in calves on the conventional method. Emptied weight of the forestomach, rumen wall thickness, papillae length, papillae width, and papillae concentration were higher in calves on the STEP method than in those on the conventional method. Blood glucose was lower, and blood urea nitrogen and beta-hydroxybutyrate at weaning and postweaning were higher in STEP-fed calves. Serum IgG, IgA, and triglycerides for 1, 2, and 3 wk of age were higher in calves on the STEP method than in those on the conventional method. In conclusion, greater feed consumption, BW gain, and structural growth, and a more metabolically and physically developed rumen were observed in calves on the STEP method than in those on the conventional method.

Pub.: 22 Jun '07, Pinned: 28 Aug '17

Development and physiology of the rumen and the lower gut: Targets for improving gut health.

Abstract: The gastrointestinal epithelium of the dairy cow and calf faces the challenge of protecting the host from the contents of the luminal milieu while controlling the absorption and metabolism of nutrients. Adaptations of the gastrointestinal tract play an important role in animal energetics as the portal-drained viscera accounts for 20% of the total oxygen consumption of the ruminant. The mechanisms that govern growth and barrier function of the gastrointestinal epithelium have received particular attention over the past decade, especially with advancements in molecular-based techniques, such as microarrays and next-generation DNA sequencing. The rumen has been the focal point of dairy cow and calf nutritional physiology research, whereas the lower gut has received less attention. Three key areas that require discovery-based and applied research include (1) early-life intestinal gut barrier function and growth; (2) how the weaning transition affects function of the rumen and intestine; and (3) gastrointestinal adaptations during the transition to high-energy diets in early lactation. In dairy nutrition, nutrients are seen not only as metabolic substrates, but also as signals that can alter gastrointestinal growth and barrier function. Nutrients have been shown to affect epithelial cell gene expression directly and, in concert with insulin-like growth factor, growth hormone, and glucagon-like peptide 2, play a pivotal role in gut tissue growth. The latest research suggests that ruminal and intestinal barrier function is compromised during the preweaning phase, at weaning, and in early lactation. Gastrointestinal barrier function is influenced by the presence of metabolites, such as butyrate, the resident microbiota, and the microbes provided in feed. In the first studies that investigated barrier function in cows and calves, it was determined that the expression of genes encoding tight junction proteins, such as claudins, occludins, and desmosomal cadherins, are affected by age and diet. Recent evidence suggests that the upper and lower gut can communicate, but the exact mechanisms of gastrointestinal cross-talk in ruminants have not been studied in detail. A deeper understanding of how diet and microbiota can affect growth and barrier function of the intestinal tract may facilitate the development of specific management regimens that could effectively influence gut function.

Pub.: 14 Mar '16, Pinned: 28 Aug '17

From pre- to postweaning: Transformation of the young calf's gastrointestinal tract.

Abstract: The ruminant gastrointestinal tract (GIT) faces the challenge of protecting the host from luminal contents and pathogens, while supporting the absorption and metabolism of nutrients for growth and maintenance. The GIT of the calf in early life undergoes some of the most rapid microbial and structural changes documented in nature, and these adaptations in GIT function make the young calf susceptible to GIT diseases and disorders. Despite these challenges, the calf's GIT has a certain degree of plasticity and can sense nutrient supply and respond to bioactive ingredients. Calf GIT research has historically focused on the transition during weaning and characterizing ruminal papillae development using microscopy and digesta metabolite responses. Through the use of new molecular-based approaches, we have recently shown that delaying the age of weaning and providing a step-down weaning protocol is associated with a more gradual shift in ruminal microbiota to a postweaned state. In addition to ruminal adaptations during weaning, nutrient flow to the lower gut changes dramatically during weaning, coinciding with a wide array of structural and microbiological changes. Structural and gene expression changes suggest that the lower gut of the dairy calf undergoes alterations that may reduce barrier function when solid feeds are consumed. More recently, in vivo data revealed that the weaning transition increases total gut permeability of the calf. Interestingly, the lower gut may be able to communicate with the forestomach, meaning that a nutrient can be sensed in the lower gut and cause subsequent adaptations in the forestomach. An improved understanding of how diet, microbiota, and functional ingredients interact to affect growth and barrier function of the intestinal tract would greatly benefit the dairy calf industry. A mechanistic understanding of such adaptations would also aid in the formulation of specific management regimens and provision of functional ingredients required to characterize and enhance gut function in young calves.

Pub.: 22 May '17, Pinned: 28 Aug '17