The critical window of opportunity

At the start of our research program, we have been confronted in the last, I would say, 20 years with several evidences in literature that correlate or relate the earlier stages of development-- so the pre-weaning diet, and the impact that those diets can have on future milk production of our dairy cows. There were several attempts from several fields of research, human nutrition, others also in cases of animal nutrition, to try to explain the mechanisms behind those responses. However, even though we have that strong relationship between growth in the first two months, three months of life, and milk production later on, we still don't know exactly what is the mechanism behind those changes. What is or what are the changes that we promote in those critical windows of opportunity for the development of a calf that will be still expressed two, three, four, five years later on?

Our plan with our research program, we have several fronts on that research program. But right now I will focus mainly on the ongoing experiment at our research farm Kempenshof, in the Netherlands. In that specific experiment, we actually restrict 35 females, and we provide high levels of nutrition to another 35 females. And, due to the fact that that's our own research station, we will be able to monitor those animals during their entire life cycle. On top of all the samplings and measurements that we can take at our research farm, we are also going to take blood of those animals throughout their entire life, and create what I would like to call a metabolic map per animal. And that will allow us in every single stage of development, to study the differences in the metabolism between animals that were restricted or animals that were, I would say, well fed, during their pre-weaning phase.

We are right now in a stage where we could consider that this type of research can be seen as a precompetitive type of research. We have here a huge opportunity to create a big difference in our dairy sector, when we are talking about the new challenges for the future on doubling food production, on reducing carbon footprint, increasing the efficiency-- I think in the history of dairy production we are actually looking at one of the biggest opportunities that we have to actually capitalize on that.

When I mentioned that we look at the type of, I would say, precompetitive research is that there is evidence in the literature, but to move forward from the point where we are, to actually dive more into what I would like to call precise nutrition, we'll need to know and understand more about those mechanisms. So, in that sense, we plan to have this program displayed. We actually want to add to what is the actual pool of knowledge existing in literature, and bring more information that can actually create awareness in our industry about the importance of the feeding of these young animals at these critical stages of their development.

It's a very challenging research field, I would say, because as much as you dig into it, as much as you realize that you know little about it. But, I personally see it as a big opportunity for the industry to move one step further towards increased efficiency on milk production. And for a young researcher like me to be involved in a project with such a dimension it's always a huge challenge. And, I'm very happy to be part of this movement!

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