Rumen development, intestinal growth and hepatic metabolism in the pre- and postweaning ruminant

R. L. Baldwin, K. R. McLeod, J. L. Klotz, R. N. Heitmann

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

488 Scopus citations


Both the role of intestinal development and the process of transitioning calves from their neonatal reliance on nutrients supplied from milk to nutrients supplied from grain are of substantial economic importance to the producer. Improvements to the calf nutritional regime can decrease mortality and disease susceptibility, increase postweaning rate of gain, ultimately enhancing the rate of herd genetic improvement (due to increased capacity for voluntary culling). Current feeding practices including daily encouragement to eat grain diets result in weaning from milk by 3 to 4 wk of age. Although the mechanisms are not yet completely understood, development of a viable fermentation within the rumen is required to initiate the maturation of the rumen epithelia. This transition results in tremendous metabolic ramifications to calf growth rate, as tissues must convert from reliance on glucose supplied from milk to the metabolism of short-chain fatty acids as primary energy substrates. This maturation is the result of differential expression of numerous genes regulating both physical and metabolic characteristics of the tissue. While the most dramatic physical changes occurring during development are associated with the rumen epithelium, changes in intestinal mass and metabolism are also realized in response to dietary changes. Amino acid use by the intestinal tissues is high and may affect amino acid availability in support of growth. Moreover, because the metabolic and protein synthetic activities of the digestive tract are high, accounting for up to 30% of both whole animal energy use and whole animal protein synthesis, understanding their regulation is vital to the continued improvement in calf management. Specific nutrient-gene interactions have been identified across the digestive tract and serve to increase visceral organ mass and directly change nutrient metabolism by the epithelia. Similarly, humoral factors have been identified as having regulatory function over gastrointestinal tissue mass and metabolism. Continuing efforts to better understand the factors affecting intestinal development will improve weaning strategies and foster better postweanling calf growth performance.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)E55-E65
JournalJournal of Dairy Science
Issue numberSUPPL. 1
StatePublished - Jul 2004


  • Development
  • Growth
  • Ruminant
  • Weaning

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Food Science
  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • Genetics


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