All cows are different – for example, some produce more milk, others are more prone to disease.
Variations in a cow's metabolism play an important role in her phenotypic differences but it's a common misconception that these are determined only by her genetic make-up.
Dr Leonel Leal, Researcher Trouw Nutrition R&D and Wageningen University, presented data demonstrating how external factors like early life nutrition, are increasingly recognised to exert profound and long-term impact on the metabolism.
Cow's metabolism CAN be programmed
External factors can alter gene expression over time without affecting the gene sequence – this is known as metabolic programming. This underpins the LifeStart heifer rearing approach, which optimises calf nutrition in the first 60 days to achieve greater performance later in life by maximising their genetic capacity.
There is an optimal window within which the metabolism can be programmed – the first two months of life.
So nutritional interventions need to be made early in the calf's life before weaning to have effect.
Research shows high plane of nutrition improve calf growth rates and organ development. More recent studies have revealed long-term influences of early life nutrition on many of the metabolic pathways that underlie productive processes as well as development of the immune system and the gut microbiome.
During Trouw Nutrition's 2017 LifeStart Symposium, Dr Leonel Leal presented data that feeding LifeStart levels (1.2 kg/d) of milk replacer (MR) to calves resulted in significantly different metabolic profiles one week before weaning (49 days of age) compared to calves receiving a more conventional provision of MR (0.6 kg/d). LifeStart milk replacer provision influenced over 45% of all metabolites measured.
Dr Leal explained: "We have clear evidence of the LifeStart Program pre-weaning inducing significant changes in metabolite profiles, involving various metabolic pathways, through to 11 months of age'.
"LifeStart heifers went on to conceive and calve at an earlier age, indicating that these early life nutrition-induced metabolic changes were advantageous over time," Dr Leal added. The research is on-going and Dr Leal expects to share further insightful data of the effects of the LifeStart Program on lifetime metabolomics and performance in due course.