Leonel Leal, Project Manager and Ruminant Nutrition Researcher at Trouw Nutrition, is excited about the LifeStart Research Program, a unique research opportunity in which the pre-weaned diet of calves will be evaluated primarily in terms of weight gain benefits which link to the lifetime performance of dairy cows. In this first-of-its-kind longitudinal study, 70 female calves will be followed for their entire lives, monitored along the way for their metabolic development, growth, health and eventual production. While there have been other long-term studies that have looked into the relationship between pre-weaning nutrition and later life milk production before, no other study has followed the calves as extensively or as closely as this one is.
While researchers currently know that there is a link between pre-weaned growth and eventual milk production, they want to understand just exactly how the link works, so that they can promote and possibly maximize these biological mechanisms. Mr. Leal hopes that through this study, LifeStart researchers will be better able to understand why pre-weaned average daily gain is linked to future milk production. And that is a very exciting prospect for several reasons!
Mr Leal believes that understanding the biological mechanisms that are triggered by early life nutrition would hopefully lead to the development of products and formulations that could further enhance this effect. With the worldwide population increasing rapidly and the need for high quality protein increasing even faster than that, finding the key to metabolic programming of calves could provide a sustainable solution to feeding the world that would simultaneously maximize the production of heifers, increase the health of herds, and bring economic benefits to farmers.
Mr Leal does caution though that we need to be cognizant of the long-term implications of such strategies, in order to take a holistic approach. It will be important to look at how promoting increased long-term milk production affects fertility and longevity of the heifers, he says. And of course, animal welfare and efficiency will be kept in mind at all times. But Mr Leal feels that we may just be on the brink of a calf-rearing revolution! Stay tuned...