Environmental, Biochemical, and Dietary Factors that Influence Rumen Development in Dairy Calves


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Virginia Tech


The dairy industry today is beginning to dedicate more focus on the growth of the calf from birth to first breeding to better improve the milk production as well as the overall performance of the individual cows. While the development of the rumen is one of the most vital contributors to the performance of the calf, it remains unknown what molecular mechanisms are responsible for the development of the rumen, and more specifically the proliferation of rumen epithelial cells. The objectives of this study were to investigate the existing data on rumen development through meta-analysis and to explore the effects of sodium butyrate and lipopolysaccharide (LPS) on rumen development in calves through experiment.

In the first study a meta-analysis was performed to summarize the literature on calf performance and derive equations that relate rumen (e.g., rumen pH, reticulorumen weight, papillae area) and non-rumen factors (e.g., feed composition, form of feed, housing) to animal performance (e.g., intake of milk replacer (MR), starter, and forage; average daily gain (ADG); and feed efficiency). We looked at four different relationships to further investigate the connections between rumen, non-rumen, and performance factors. In the first and second relationships of interest, the effect of dietary and environmental variables on rumen variables and performance variables were examined, respectively. The third relationship of interest was how rumen variables influenced performance variables. The final relationship of interest was investigating the additive effects of the rumen, dietary, and environmental variables on the performance variables. Forward selection, multiple regression was used to derive equations to select variables that explained variation in the response variable in each model. Results showed that the variation in calf ADG was explained by daily forage intake, calves that were weaned, total starter intake, and total MR intake (concordance correlation coefficient (CCC) = 0.976). The variation in feed to gain ratio was explained by the weight of the ruminal contents, daily forage, MR, and starter intakes, percent of starter in the diet, and total starter intake (CCC = 0.992). The variation in daily forage intake was explained by the percent of the diet that was starter or MR (CCC = 0.998). The variation in daily starter intake was explained by the percent of acid detergent fiber in the starter, a pelleted starter (versus a texturized), diets including starter and forage (versus a milk replacer only diet), and the percent of the diet that was MR (CCC = 0.998). The variation in daily MR intake was explained by the percent of the diet that was starter, final body weight, ruminal propionate concentration, and daily starter intake (CCC = 0.918). Based on these analyses, although dietary and environmental factors are closely associated with calf performance, ruminal factors such as volatile fatty acid (VFA) concentration and ruminal contents appear to have additional, additive influences on calf performance.

In the second study, 24 Holstein bull calves were challenged with oral doses of LPS and sodium butyrate. The hypothesis here was that LPS and sodium butyrate would instigate rumen cell proliferation independently and additively. Calves were assigned to one of four treatments: control (CON; n=5), butyrate (BUTY; n=5), LPS only (LPS-O) (n=6), or LPS plus butyrate (LPSB; n=6). All treatments were administered orally twice daily consisting of either: 0.9% saline (CON); 11 mM sodium butyrate (BUTY); LPS ranging from 2.5 to 40 µg/kg metabolic body weight (BW0.75, LPS), or both butyrate and LPS (LPSB). Calves were fed milk replacer (22% CP, 20% fat, as-fed) and starter (20% CP, 3% fat, as-fed) based on metabolic BW, or about 12% BW of MR and 3% BW of starter. Feed intake, fecal and respiratory scores, and rectal temperature were recorded daily. Calf BW, hip height, jugular blood samples, and rumen content samples (via oroesophageal tube) were collected weekly. Calves were weaned at 6 wk of age and euthanized at 8 wk of age, whereupon ruminal weights and ruminal samples for papillae area and epithelial thickness were collected. Blood and rumen samples were analyzed for concentrations of beta-hydroxybutyrate, glucose, LPS-binding protein, and VFA. Data were analyzed as a 2x2 factorial with the repeated effect of week. Three non-orthogonal contrasts (CON versus the average of all other treatments; LPS-O versus LPSB, and LPSB versus BUTY) were investigated. Feed intake, health measures, and blood metabolites did not differ by treatment. Calf BW increased by week (P < 0.0001). Irrespective of week, LPS calves weighed more and had higher ADG than BUTY calves (P = 0.020). Irrespective of week, withers height was greater in LPS compared to CON (P = 0.006). Rumen pH and rumen VFA concentrations did not differ by treatment but did decrease and increase, respectively, with week in conjunction with increased starter intake. Total empty forestomach (P = 0.014) and reticulorumen weights (P = 0.012) were greater in LPSB compared to BUTY. Overall, LPS and sodium butyrate appeared to have synergistically affected some, but not all rumen measurements without affecting calf growth, intake, or health.

Results from the meta-analysis emphasize the importance of continuing to focus on the solid feed intake of the calf from birth through weaning. Implications from the LPS study are imperative to other dairy scientists who will attempt to further study the effects of LPS on the rumen.



calf, dairy, lipopolysaccharide, meta-analysis, rumen development