Pre-Birth Nutrition Can Impact Calf’s Life-Time Performance

Some aspects of a calf’s life-time performance are affected by nutrition while in utero. The nutrients present in the pre-birth environment can affect life-time productivity and influence if the calf becomes a good cow or a bad cow, according to Professor Jim Drackley, Department of Animal Sciences, University of Illinois.  When the individual calf’s gene expression is modified, it impacts its life-time performance. The calf’s genetic DNA, however, does not change.

“Aspects of early-life fetal development have long-term effects on the calf,” Dr. Drackley said while speaking at the recent 2018 Adisseo International Dairy Workshop. The workshop provided insights and solutions for dairy producers such as the benefit of supplemental methionine, a required nutrient.

Dr. Drackley has found that:

  • Balancing the methionine levels in the dairy ration from pre-fresh to confirmed pregnant improves the milk yield and milk components for dairy cows.
  • Balancing methionine levels may improve embryo quality and may reduce early embryo losses.
  • The ratio and total grams of lysine and methionine – which are known to be the first-limiting amino acids -- in the ration have been shown to significantly impact milk and component production. Meeting dairy cow nutritional needs for methionine also has been shown to have an impact on health and reproduction.
  • Pregnancy success starts during the transition period, prior to the next pregnancy.
  • Feeding rumen-protected methionine increases methionine concentration in the serum and follicular fluid of dairy cows, making methionine readily available to the developing fetus.
  • Maternal methionine status may impact their calves after birth and in the long term.