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Keywords:

  • calf;
  • concentrate;
  • blood;
  • growth;
  • digestibility;
  • gluconeogenic enzymes

Summary

This study elucidated the effects of limited concentrate feeding on growth, nutrient digestibility, blood profile and gene expression of gluconeogenic enzymes in the liver of dairy calves. The study utilized 36 German Holstein dairy calves (5–7 days of age) divided into two groups of 18 calves each for 150 days. Control group calves received 2 kg/(calf × day) of concentrate, whereas calves in the restricted group received only 1 kg/(calf × day). Good quality forage (mixture of maize and grass silages) was available for ad libitum consumption to both groups. The intake of milk replacer before weaning, and of concentrate were recorded daily per calf; however, the consumption of forages was quantified as daily average of the group. Body weights (BW) were recorded at start and on days 35, 70, 112 and 150. Blood and serum samples and spot urinary and faecal samples were also collected at similar time points. On days 70 and 150, liver biopsies were collected from seven animals in each group. The BW was not different between the groups at all times. Total BW gain in the control group was 124 kg as opposed to 111 kg in restricted group that led to average BW gain of 827 g/day and 739 g/day in respective groups, and the differences were significant (p = 0.018). As planned, the control group had higher concentrate and lower forage intake than the restricted group. The blood haemoglobin, haematocrit and serum variables (glucose, total protein, albumin and urea) were within the normal range in both groups, but serum glucose was higher (p < 0.05) in control than in restricted group at 70 days. There was no difference between groups in organic matter (OM) digestibility which declined (p < 0.001) with increasing age in both groups. Microbial crude protein (MCP) synthesis estimated from urinary allantoin excretion increased (p < 0.001) in both groups with increasing age but was not different between groups. The mRNA expressions for the gluconeogenic enzymes, cytosolic and mitochondrial phosphoenol pyruvate carboxykinase (EC 4.1.1.32) and pyruvate carboxylase (EC 6.4.1.1) measured by quantitative real-time PCR in liver biopsies showed no differences between groups. Overall, restricting concentrate moderately reduced the growth intensity without affecting the normal serum and blood indices, and MCP synthesis and OM digestibility showed no differences between groups, indicating that both concentrate feeding schemes can be successfully applied.