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ARS Home » Midwest Area » Madison, Wisconsin » U.S. Dairy Forage Research Center » Cell Wall Biology and Utilization Research » Research » Publications at this Location » Publication #341097

Title: Diet influences early microbiota development in dairy calves without long-term impacts on milk production

item DILL-MCFARLAND, KIMBERLY - University Of Wisconsin
item Weimer, Paul
item BREAKER, JACOB - University Of Wisconsin
item SUEN, GARRET - University Of Wisconsin

Submitted to: Applied and Environmental Microbiology
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 10/23/2018
Publication Date: 1/9/2019
Citation: Dill-Mcfarland, K.A., Weimer, P.J., Breaker, J.D., Suen, G. 2019. Diet influences early microbiota development in dairy calves without long-term impacts on milk production. Applied and Environmental Microbiology.

Interpretive Summary: In dairy cows, the microbial community of the rumen is essential for converting feedstuffs to digestible nutrients (volatile fatty acids and microbial protein). Most dairy producers use a commercial feed (calf starter) prior to weaning. There is evidence that this starter can be replaced by less expensive feeds (e.g., corn silage) without hampering long-term productivity, but the effects of this calf-feeding regimen on rumen microbial community composition has not been examined. We characterized the rumen microbial community in both sacrificed calves and in adult cows, when calves were fed diets of either calf starter, corn silage, or a mix of the two. Corn silage feeding resulted in more rapid development of an adult-like microbial community, but all diets gave equivalent levels of milk production during the cow's first lactation. The results indicated that corn silage feeding can save producers money in feed costs without compromising either the rumen microbial community or lactation performance.

Technical Abstract: Gastrointestinal tract (GIT) microorganisms play important roles in the health of their hosts and impact agriculturally relevant production of milk and meat by a number of animals. Despite this link, interventions to improve production by altering the adult microbiota have proved ineffective, as established microbial communities are resistant to change. In contrast, unestablished communities in young animals may be more easily altered, but are less well-studied. Here, we measured the GIT-associated microbiota of 45 Holstein dairy cows from 2 weeks to first lactation, using Illumina amplicon sequencing of bacterial (V4 16S), archaeal (V6-8 16S), and fungal (ITS1) communities. Fecal and rumen microbiota were correlated to growth and milk production of animals raised on calf starter grains and/or corn silage to determine if early-life diet has long-term impacts. Corn silage promoted a more adult-like microbiota by weaning, but all animals reached an adult-like composition between weaning and one year. While some calf diet-driven differences were apparent in the microbiota of adult cows, these dissimilarities did not correlate with animal growth, milk production, or efficiency. This suggested that initial microbial community establishment is impacted by early-life diet, but post-weaning factors have a greater influence on adult communities and production outcomes.