June 20 2023 02:59 PM

Sponsored content created and provided by Olivia Genther-Schroeder, Ph.D., Senior Manager, Dairy Feed R&D for Purina

With the opportunity to capitalize on the record low native beef herd numbers and the growing demand for high-quality beef, dairy-beef crossbred cattle producers can benefit from taking a second look at their early-life nutrition program.

Many of the factors that determine long-term growth and performance of cattle are determined during the neonatal period. During this pre-weaning stage, calves are going through many important development processes, and this may be the best opportunity for producers to positively impact a calf’s future growth and performance.

The importance of early life

Gut health and immune system development

The first three months of a calf’s life are critical to the maturation of the gut.1 During this time, the physical barrier and structure of the rumen and intestine are developing as well as the immune system. Simultaneously, the microbiome is established and undergoes maturation, which plays a vital role in the long-term health of the animal. Early life intervention may be an effective way to support the gut microbiota in adults.

Muscle development

Neonatal nutrition has been shown to influence muscle growth and protein accumulation. Animals are born with a set amount of muscle cells and can’t produce more of them, so fetal development is the most critical time period to support total muscle cells in animals. Postnatal skeletal muscle growth is dependent on satellite cells that allow the muscle cells to continue to grow larger. During the early neonatal phase, satellite cells are rapidly produced and go through key developmental stages that allow muscle cells to function properly as the animal grows. As the calf matures, the ability to produce these cells is drastically reduced.

Adipocyte development

Early life is also critical for adipocyte  cells that store fat  development. It is important to develop the population of adipocytes early as these are the cells that will fill with lipids to become marbling as the animal gets closer to maturity. As with muscle cells, the fetal stage is the best opportunity to impact adipocyte numbers, but the opportunity to have an impact on marbling is still high during the first few months of an animal's life and decreases as animals get older.2

The plane of nutrition matters

To better understand the performance potential of dairy-beef cross calves, researchers at the Purina Animal Nutrition Center compared a high plane of nutrition to a commercial (control) plane of nutrition. The findings from the trials show that early-life nutrition has a significant impact on the development, growth, and performance of a calf during the pre- and post-weaning phases, but also may have long-term benefits, including improved quality grade scores.

Overall growth and performance

When producers are feeding young calves, they are setting the stage for how the calf will perform throughout its life. Nutrition can impact all the individual components of development including gut, immune system, muscle, marbling, and, ultimately, overall growth. By implementing a high plane of nutrition program, producers can set the stage for long-term growth and performance of their calves and improve their bottom line potential.

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1 Moeser, A. J., C. S. Pohl, and M. Rajput. 2017. Weaning stress and gastrointestinal barrier development: Implications for lifelong gut health in pigs. Anim. Nutr. 3:313-321. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.aninu.2017.06.003.

2 Du, M., J. Tong, J. Zhao, K. R. Underwood, M. Zhu, S. P. Ford, and P. W. Nathanielsz. 2010. Fetal programming of skeletal muscle development in ruminant animals. J. Anim. Sci. 88:E51-E60. doi: 10.2527/jas.2009-2311.

About Purina:
Purina Animal Nutrition LLC (purinamills.com) is a national organization serving producers, animal owners and their families through more than 4,700 local cooperatives, independent dealers and other large retailers throughout the United States. Driven to unlock the greatest potential in every animal, the company is an industry-leading innovator offering a valued portfolio of complete feeds, supplements, premixes, ingredients and specialty technologies for the livestock and lifestyle animal markets. Purina Animal Nutrition LLC is headquartered in Arden Hills, Minn., and is a wholly owned subsidiary of Land O’Lakes, Inc.