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The relationship between size at birth and subsequent metabolic parameters in Holstein/Friesian dairy calves - LS3636

Dairy cows experience a period of negative energy balance post partum which may extend up to 20 weeks in modern high genetic merit (HGM) cows. Such cows can conceive while still in peak lactation, and this may compromise the nutrient supply to the developing fetus. Data derived from fetal nutrient restriction studies from other species suggests that such calves are likely to be born smaller, to exhibit catch up growth as juveniles, and to develop altered glucose tolerance and insulin resistance as adults. The purpose of this proposal is to conduct a preliminary experiment to test the hypotheses that: (1) high milk yields of the dam during pregnancy have an adverse effect on nutrient partitioning to the developing fetus and (2) that the metabolic adaptations which the calf makes to this situation during gestation may affect subsequent postnatal development. A cohort of approximately 100-120 heifer calves born at CEDAR in the autumn of 2001 will be weighed at birth, 3 months and 6 months of age and their height, length and girth recorded to measure growth rates. The metabolic status of the dams will be estimated from recordings of weekly milk yields, age and body condition score at parturition. Fifty heifer calves will be selected for more detailed analysis of metabolic hormone profiles. The conception rates of the heifers will be measured at 15 months. Metabolic and fertility data will be related to birth parameters and growth rates. This study is of relevance to the understanding of nutrient partitioning in dairy cows. If the development of the calves is found to be compromised by high maternal yields during pregnancy, then the work also has welfare implications regarding the breeding of HGM cows. The preliminary results from this study are intended to form the basis of a more extensive future investigation into this topic. The conclusions will be presented to dairy farmers and to the cattle breeding industry.

1. Recording at birth
Weight, height and girth lengths of heifers will be recorded.
2. Measurement of growth rate
Heifers will be reweighed at 3 and 6 months of age.
3. Assessment of dams
The body condition score at parturition, age and details of milk yield in the previous lactation will be recorded.
4. Metabolic profiles
Fifty heifers will be selected for measurement of metabolic and stress hormone profiles at about 6 months of age.
5. Conception data
Conception data of all the heifers at 15 months of age will be recorded.
6. Data analysis
Birth data and growth rates will be related to the other parameters measured.
Project Documents
• Final Report : The relationship between size at birth and subsequent metabolic parameters in holstein/friesian dairy cows   (190k)
Time-Scale and Cost
From: 2001

To: 2003

Cost: £62,494
Contractor / Funded Organisations
Royal Veterinary College
Livestock Farming              
Fields of Study