LifeStart Symposium – Breaking down barriers

Monday 16th October saw myself and Jessica Charlton (Wynnstay Calf specialist) boarding a plane, headed for Holland and the Trouw Nutrition Lifestart Symposium.

LifeStart is the platform under which Trouw Nutrition explores how the first two months of a calf’s life can influence later life. This is a crucial time of opportunity –  the nutrition a calf is exposed to in the first 60 days has been proven to have long-term effects on that animal’s performance and capabilities throughout life.

We are all aware that the more you feed a calf, the more it will grow – however the next step in the LifeStart research aims to show heifer development beyond weaning.

Gathered at the Symposium were a range of people, from academic scientists, researchers and industry leaders from across the world, specialising in dairy nutrition, nutritional immunology and ruminant production systems, to vets, nutritionists and farmers, offering a ‘real life’ perspective on the science.

Metabolic programming was discussed at length over the two days, however other topics covered included development of the digestive tract, nutritional strategies pre- and post-weaning and the role of early life nutrition in building immunity. As well as calf rearing, much discussion was had around barriers facing the agricultural and farming industry worldwide.

Prof Dr Leo den Hartog – Director Trouw Nutrition R&D, opened the symposium, and shared the statistic that ‘productivity of a farm animal, is 30-40% lower than their genetic potential.’ Following on from this, many of the speakers focused on how to exploit this genetic potential, epigenetics and nutrigenomics.

Dr Javier Martín-Tereso – Manager Ruminant Research, Trouw Nutrition explained that 42 million cows are producing 40% of the worlds milk, however there are 250 million cows producing milk. If we can get cows to reach their genetic potential, and produce milk accordingly – we could be producing the same amount of milk, with fewer numbers of cows.
Teun Wientjes, spoke at length about farming in the Netherlands and how the theory behind LifeStart has helped their farm become more productive. It was not economically viable for Teun to increase his herd size, so he had to look at increasing the quality of his herd, not the quantity.

Leonel Leal Researcher Trouw Nutrition R&D and Wageningen University spoke about the longitudinal LifeStart research and recent findings.

The team have studied two groups of calves – one group fed LifeStart levels of milk replacer (1.2kg/d), and the other fed conventional feed level (0.6kg/d). Previous results from the LifeStart research have shown that dietary interventions in the first two months of life, can result in metabolic adaptations. They had also previously found an increase in mammary gland & other organ size as a result of the LifeStart program.

More recently the team have been trying to understand the cow’s response after receiving the LifeStart level of milk replacer. The Trouw Nutrition team were very clear, that when doing their research, they wanted to look at a wide range of factors, and not just milk production levels, which would not tell the whole story.

Although only in early stage analysis- and there are more results still to come – results so far have shown:

  • Calves fed the LifeStart amount of milk replacer, influences age at first conception (being 23days sooner than conventional group)
  • LifeStart fed calves had an earlier age at first calving (16 days sooner than conventional group)
  • LifeStart animals had an increase in brown-like adipose tissue. It is thought that this may improve insulin sensitivity, influence thermoregulation and inflammatory responses.
  • Early results showed improved survival in the herd of LifeStart calves (studied up to 180 Days in milk)

Full production data results and analysis are ongoing. Further information from second lactation is expected in 2019.

Although these results look very promising – and are very much in line with the Wynnstay calf rearing ethos – it is important to remember that not all milk replacers can be fed at such high levels.

Dr Harma Berends, Researcher Trouw Nutrition R&D points out that the formulation of the milk replacer fed is very important. We should be having a closer look at the protein quality and energy sources in the milk replacers we use. When choosing a milk replacer for your farm, amino acids, energy balance and trace elements are key components to ask questions about.

Interestingly Dr Berends paid particular attention when talking about energy sources and inclusion – suggesting that there may be advantages and health benefits to milk replacers with high energy levels.

Watch this space…

Eimear Diamond
Calf Specialist
You can follow Eimear on Twitter @diamondcalf1 or contact your local calf specialist here.

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