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Feeding forage or concentrates early in life influences rumen fermentation, metabolic response, immune function and growth of Wagyu × Friesian calves

journal contribution
posted on 2023-05-03, 21:24 authored by Ajmal KhanAjmal Khan, Vicki BurggraafVicki Burggraaf, Bev Thomson, Paul Muir, Katherine Lowe, John Koolaard, Axel HeiserAxel Heiser, Shane LeathShane Leath, Sue McCoardSue McCoard
Nature of solid feed can influence the ability of calves to transition from milk to solid feed. The impact of feeding forage or concentrate starter diets to artificially-reared calves on metabolic response, immune functions, growth, and body composition on pasture are limited. This study evaluated the effects of rearing Wagyu × Holstein Friesian calves (n=60; ~1 wk old) either on a forage starter (n=30, FS, fermented alfalfa, Medicago sativa) or a concentrate starter (n=30, CS, pelleted concentrate starter) from ~ 1 to 14 wk of calf age on rumen fermentation, blood metabolites, immune function, growth and body composition to wk 41. Group housed calves (10 calves group, 3 groups per treatment) were fed milk (2 L / calf twice daily) until wk 7, transitioned to once a day feeding until weaning by wk 9, and offered their respective solid feeds ad libitum. All calves were transferred to pasture ~1 wk after transition to once a day feeding, with starter feeds removed gradually by wk 14. Thereafter, calves were reared together until wk 41 of the experiment. Solid feed intake was lower in FS than CS calves during the first 7 wk of the study. Rumen pH was higher but total short chain fatty acids and acetate to propionate ratio were lower in FS than CS calves at wk 7, with no differences observed thereafter. Higher circulating BHBA around weaning indicate greater metabolic development of the rumen in FS vs. CS calves. Lower circulating NEFA around weaning indicate low mobilization of fat reserves in FS vs. CS calves. Compared to CS calves, FS calves had a stronger antibody response to the anti-clostridial vaccine. Calves on FS diet grew slower than CS calves for the first 14 wk, but had greater ADG after 14 wk while on pasture compared to CS calves, with similar BW between groups by 41 wk. Body composition at wk 41 showed no effect of diet on muscle or s.c. fat deposition. Plasma IGF-1 was lower in FS than CS calves at wk 7 and 12 but was similar between treatments at wk 30, consistent with the observed change in BW. Collectively these results indicated that while FS compared to CS as a starter diet reduced DMI and growth in the first 14 wk of rearing, rumen metabolic development was improved which enabled better utilisation of forage resulting in lower mobilisation of body reserves, and FS calves had a greater antibody response indicative of improved immune function. Compensatory growth was evident in FS calves post-weaning resulting in similar muscle and s.c. fat deposition and overall live weight in both groups by 41 wk.


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© CSIRO 2020


  • English

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  • No



Journal title

Animal Production Science




Khan, M. A., Burggraaf, V. T., Thomson, B., Muir, P., Lowe, K., Koolaard, J., … McCoard, S. (2020). Feeding forage or concentrates early in life influences rumen fermentation, metabolic response, immune function and growth of Wagyu × Friesian calves. Animal Production Science, 60(11), 1418-1428. doi:10.1071/AN18636


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