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Early life indicators of future growth in Holstein dairy heifers.

T. S. Steckler




Early life indicators of future growth in Holstein dairy heifers.
T. S. Steckler*1, N. Lopez-Villalobos2, J. P. Boerman1. 1Purdue University Department of Animal Sciences West Lafayette, IN, 2School of Agriculture and Environment, Massey University Palmerston North, New Zealand.

The objective of this study was to evaluate the long-term effects that early life (from 0 to 60 d of age) has on BW of growing heifers up to 400 d of age. Daily milk consumption, serum total protein, pneumonia and scours incidences, genetic body size, birthweights, and incremental BW were collected on a commercial dairy farm from October 1, 2015 to January 1, 2019. Holstein calves (n = 9,099) were fed whole pasteurized milk with a 5% fat and 30% protein enhancer added at 20 g per L of milk through a F�rster-Technik automated calf feeding system (feeders = 8) for 60 d (range 48 — 126d). Calves were weighed at birth and several other times before calving. Average birth weight of calves was 40.6 � 4.9 kg (mean � SD), serum total protein was 6.7 � 0.63 mg/dL, and cumulative 60 d milk consumption was 508.1 � 67.3 L with a range of 179.9 to 785.1 L. Daily BWs were predicted for individual animals using third order orthogonal polynomial to model growth curves. The linear and quadratic effects of cumulative 60 d milk consumption, birthweight, feeder, year born, season born, respiratory incidence, and genetic body size score were significant (P < 0.0001) when predicting heifer BW at 400 d (pBW400) of age (R2 = 0.31). There was up to a 263 kg difference in pBW400 between the heaviest and lightest animal. Birthweight had a significant effect on predicted weights up to 400 d (P < 0.001), and for every 1 kg increase in birthweight, there was a 2.5 kg increase in pBW400. Quadratic effect of cumulative 60 d milk consumption was significant up to 400 d (P < 0.0001). We divided 60 d milk consumption into quartiles. Heifers had the highest pBW400 in the third quartile, when 60 d consumption was between 507.8 and 552.5 L. Genetic body size showed a 21.5 kg difference in pBW400 between the top and bottom 25th percentile of heifers. Heifers were 4.2 kg lighter at 400 d if treated for respiratory disease 3+ times during the first 60 d of life, compared with heifers not treated for respiratory disease. Early life events continue to influence heifer growth up to 400 d of age.

Keywords: autofeeder, growth, milk consumption.