The advantages of and science behind The LifeStart Program

Abstract – Presentation Dr Harma Berends

EuroTier, 17 November 2016

The LifeStart Program aims to characterize the long-term metabolic changes that can explain the observed changes in later life performance in dairy cows. The program is based on a natural phenomenon known as metabolic programming and the known effect of pre-weaning growth on lifetime production. As Dr Harma Berends points out in her presentation, by raising the plane of pre-weaning nutrition through enhanced neonatal feeding, the LifeStart Program aims to characterize these lasting effects on a variety of measures.

LifeStart Research

The research team of Trouw Nutrition is conducting ongoing longitudinal studies to determine the complete scope of the effects of enhanced neonatal milk feeding on gene expression and metabolism, while looking for additional effects as well. While their research is still ongoing, first insights show enhanced organ development and immune function, as well as changes in metabolic pathways that may support greater overall health and potential for lifetime milk production. The team is also evaluating implications for nutrient load and insulin response.
So far, they conclude that with proper management up to and during weaning, providing increased levels of milk pre-weaning raises the lifetime potential of each animal.

Preliminary findings

In sharing the LifeStart research programme's preliminary results on the effects of enhanced milk feeding, Dr Berends points out that the data indicate that for organ development, the growth of the liver, pancreas and mammary gland, for instance, is enhanced by this higher plane of nutrition. In terms of metabolic profiles, she also notes that there is a strong dietary effect leading to clear differences.

While the calves share the same chronological age, the data clearly indicate that their developmental status is quite different and that the main metabolic pathways are altered by higher feeding planes.

Looking at nutrient load when increasing the level of nutrition, Dr Berends explains that while the nutritional requirements for maintenance stay the same, the requirements for growth shift with increased milk feeding. These requirements do not just increase at the pace of growth, but rather they need to be balanced properly, otherwise a risk exists of exceeding tolerance for some nutrients. In addressing how this increased nutrient load could affect insulin sensitivity,
Dr Berends explains that when calves are directly programmed from birth with both a strictly followed colostrum protocol and higher amounts of milk replacer, as in the LifeStart Program, these elevated planes of nutrition neither affect glucose response nor decrease insulin sensitivity.

Weaning can be more of a challenge with higher planes of nutrition, as a smooth weaning process requires adequate rumen size and function which can be delayed by increased milk feeding. Trouw Nutrition has studied this subject extensively and has published five peer reviewed papers on weaning in 2015. Dr Berends explains that with proper management, LifeStart calves can thrive through the process. By weaning later, 8 weeks instead of 6 for example, average daily growth and energy intakes remain higher through the weaning process. Additionally, gradual weaning has also been shown to be more effective than abrupt weaning.

Ultimately, healthy calves lead to healthy cows with greater lifetime performance.
Thus, as the LifeStart Program recommends, neonatal calf feeding and management should indeed be designed with calf health as the primary focus.

Abstract – Presentation Dr Harma Berends