Dietary factors to optimize pre- and post-weaning gastrointestinal development of calves

Dr Michael Steele explains the importance of colostrum and nutritional plane in setting up positive gastrointestinal health of neonatal calves, as well as weaning strategies that support gut health.

Dietary factors to optimize pre- and post-weaning gastrointestinal development of calves

Dr. Michael Steele, of the University of Alberta, Canada, was interviewed after he addressed the audience during the symposium which marked the official opening of Trouw Nutrition's new Calf & Beef Research Facility in the Netherlands last April. In his interview, he discussed the importance of both colostrum and plane of nutrition in setting up positive gastrointestinal health of neonatal calves, as well as weaning strategies that likewise support gut health.

Dr. Steele emphasized that both colostrum quality and quantity are vitally important in terms of the development of gut microbiota as well as overall gastrointestinal development of neonatal calves within the first week after parturition. High quality colostrum fed in the proper amounts can bolster gut health and set calves up for a healthier pre-weaning (and post-weaning) period. After that first week of life, but before weaning, he explained that the level, or plane, of nutrition strongly impacts gut development as well. When an elevated plane of nutrition is fed, there isn't going to be as much rumen development, explained Dr. Steele, as dry feed intake is affected by the larger amounts of liquid feed. Therefore, while he does feel that higher planes of nutrition are essential for overall calf growth and development, he points out that weaning strategies are particularly important when upping the level of milk fed pre-weaning.

And what are Dr. Steele's recommendations for weaning when feeding a higher plane of nutrition? He believes that later weaning with a gradual, or step-down, process stretched over at least two weeks is best. Why? Studies have shown that between six and eight weeks is a significant period in biological gut development for calves, especially within the rumen. Therefore, he feels that weaning later (after the eight-week mark) and less abruptly will allow for the genes in the rumen to be "turned on" and developed more fully, and will help enable a significantly smoother weaning process. Indeed, Dr. Steele feels that following these guidelines will help solve many of the potential weaning issues that could arise while feeding higher planes of nutrition, pre-weaning.

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