Insights in nutrition programs for the developing ruminant
As the world population grows and resources for food animal production become more limited, animal efficiency must increase. The dairy industry has made progress in reducing age at first calving from 27 to 25 mo., but heifers remain unproductive for over half of their life while still consuming resources. As pre-ruminants, offering restricted amounts of milk to neonatal heifers (conventional system) increases concentrate consumption which drives rumen development. However, accelerated milk programs improve pre-weaning growth rate and the balance between these two systems is still under continuous investigation. Solid feed is important for papillary and musculature development in addition to establishment of a microbial population, which increase transition success when calves are weaned gradually. Furthermore, the optimal target weight for calving is 550 kg at 23 to 24.5 mo., which increases 305-d lactation yield. Increased milk production is desired, but a costly rearing period without producing milk only increases as age at first calving increases, which also increases total number of replacement heifers and total herd green-house emissions. Strategies to achieve desired body weight and age at first calving while reducing input include, using compensatory growth, restricting intake and precision feeding. Compensatory growth can increase average daily gain and feed efficiency; moreover, precision feeding increases feed efficiency even further by reducing nutrient metabolic costs in comparison to ad- libitum systems. Restricting intake provides increased rumen retention time for fiber, non-structural carbohydrates, protein, and other nutrients to be highly digested. Nutrient digestibility is important when comparing these feeding methods because dry matter intake has the greatest impact on efficiency, specifically when different amounts of forages are fed. Using different strategies during the weaning, pre-pubertal and post-pubertal period of dairy heifers can significantly improve performance, nutrient and resources utilization during this conditioning growing phase of dairy cattle.
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