Dr. Fernando Soberon explains the connection between early nutrition and epigenetics in calves, and how together they pay off in greater milk production later on.
Epigenetics is the understanding of how external or environmental factors in early development can have long-lasting effects on one’s lifetime health. It’s the reason why some genes are expressed and why others are silenced. There are indeed certain external factors, such as nutrition, which affect the way epigenetics regulates different genes within cells. Dr. Fernando Soberon believes that high nutrient intake from nutrient-dense food is simply the best way to help genes reach their full potential and cause the greatest epigenetic effect. He explains that in calves, it’s important to register high nutrient intake as early as possible, in order for this positive epigenetic effect to really take hold.
Dr. Soberon feels that after getting as much colostrum as possible within the first 14 hours of life, it’s essential that most of a calf’s nutrition, for at least the first 48 days, should come from liquid feed. Why? He finds that it’s just not possible for calves to consume enough nutrients from dry grains or alternate feed to get same amount that milk and milk substitutes provide. The closer we can get to what a calf would naturally consume, says Dr. Soberon (and that’s about 14 litres of milk per day!), the closer we can get to maximizing the epigenetic effect.
So just how positive could this epigenetic effect actually be? The results are astounding. Yes, just by feeding more nutrients, we do get more milk later on. But, when the growth those liquid nutrients provide is correlated with the actual amount of milk production at first lactation, the numbers speak for themselves. In a meta-analysis of twelve scientific studies, Dr. Soberon found that “for every additional kilo of average daily gain that a calf has pre-weaning, they will produce 1500 kilos more milk during the first lactation.” These numbers were consistent across the studies and there was no upper limit to the growth. An elevated plane of nutrition leads to higher average daily gains which leads to greater milk production at first lactation. Early nutrition is indeed the key to better results.