The key to rumen development

The key to rumen development

27 July 2017

Dairy farmers know how important rumen development is in young calves. Rumen development is the process that prepares and primes the engine room for lifetime production.

Calves cannot be safely weaned off milk and transitioned to a forage diet or effectively use pasture for growth unless their rumen is developed for this purpose.

The rumen expands to accommodate solid feed, but only forage bulk can really stretch and strengthen the rumen wall and build the musculature required for effective stomach contractions.

The rumen can develop without forage, but it takes about six weeks on a forage-only diet for adequate rumen development to support calf growth from forage. If quality fibre is withheld from calves for three to six weeks, then it will take an additional six weeks from the point quality forage is introduced before the rumen is sufficiently developed to thrive on pasture.

Recent research1 has shown feeding calves Fiber Fresh ad-libitum with four to five litres (L) of milk daily results in 18 percent heavier empty rumen weight, better rumen musculature and thicker rumen walls compared to calves fed milk and meal containing ‘adequate dietary fibre’. Calves fed Fiber Fresh readily transition to pasture in seven weeks without a growth check due to accelerated rumen development demonstrated by early adult-like fermentation patterns.

The Volatile Fatty Acid (VFA) butyrate is key to developing the papillae and metabolism of the rumen wall, allowing VFAs to reach the bloodstream. In developing restricted milk and early-weaning calf rearing systems it was previously thought starch from grain was required in the diet of calves to produce enough butyrate. But Fiber Fresh research1 has shown feeding Fiber Fresh produces good rumen butyrate levels, fosters excellent rumen papillae development and superior rumen wall metabolism (as indicated by beta-hydroxybutyrate levels in the blood). Because VFAs soon become the primary energy source for the calf, it’s vital in these early stages of rumen development that a high nutritional fibre is fed to prepare the animal for a life on pasture.

Rumen development requires rumen degradable protein for microbes to grow. Legumes provide the best source, with lucerne comparable to the soya bean used in most calf starter meals. FiberStart® is a uniquely produced palatable, high nutritional fibre that contains 20 percent crude protein per kilogram (kg) dry matter, which is comparable to the most protein-rich starter meals.

Right from the start, healthy rumen development requires correct rumen pH for microbial growth and VFA production. Forage is nature’s best antacid, with lucerne particularly effective at counter-acting the acidifying effect of grain/meal in the diet. FiberStart® in the diet of calves ensures the integrity and health of the rumen wall. When fed with meal, FiberStart® also increases the digestibility of the whole diet and/or feed conversion efficiency.

1 McCoard et al 2017 (in press)

For more information talk to your local Fonterra Farm Source TSR or visit your Farm Source store.

Article supplied by Fiber Fresh