The critical window of opportunity

Leonel Leal discusses the LifeStart Research Program and the desire to track the mechanism behind the LifeStart advantage: that the pre-weaning diet of calves can have a tremendous impact on eventual milk production.

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The critical window of opportunity

While many research studies have shown that there is a link between pre-weaning calf nutrition and milk production when those calves grow to be two, three and four years of age, there has yet to be any specific indication as to what exactly is the mechanism behind those changes. Researchers know that the feeding and care which take place in the first few months of a calf's life are a critical window of opportunity which can alter the production of that calf long into adulthood. But, what it is that specifically shifts within the calves during this critical period has remained a mystery... until now.

Leonel Leal and the LifeStart research team have set out on a longitudinal study that seeks to answer this essential question. In the ongoing study (which began in November, 2013), 70 female calves have been split into two groups of 35 each. For the first eight weeks of life, one group was given restricted levels of nutrition (a total of 30kg of CMR), while the other group was provided higher levels of nutrition (a total of 60kg of CMR). The calves have now been followed for over two years, with various physical samples being taken, as well as a variety of measurements. Using these samples and measurements, Mr. Leal hopes to create a sort of metabolic map, which will allow the research team to study, at every stage of development, the differences in metabolism between those who had a restricted diet vs. those who were fed higher planes of nutrition. Thus he hopes to find the key to knowing and understanding the metabolic mechanisms at work which trigger better health and higher performance in calves fed higher planes of nutrition, pre-weaning.

Mr. Leal sees the mission of this study to be too important to be considered as proprietary research, but rather he sees what his team is doing in the light of precompetitive research. Indeed, with the increased need for sustainable food solutions worldwide, he and his team are displaying the results as they go, thus adding to the existing pool of knowledge on the topic. Ultimately, Mr. Leal feels that what's needed is to create awareness in the dairy industry about the importance of feeding these young animals at critical stages of their development, and he hopes this longitudinal study will go a long way towards doing just that!

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