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Review: Importance of colostrum supply and milk feeding intensity on gastrointestinal and systemic development in calves

Feeding management of the postnatal and preweaning calf has an important impact on calf growth and development during thiscritical period and affects the health and well-being of the calves. After birth, an immediate and sufficient colostrum supply is a prerequisite for successful calf rearing. Colostrum provides high amounts of nutrient as well as non-nutrient factors that promote the immune system and intestinal maturation of the calf. The maturation and function of the neonatal intestine enable the calf to digest and absorb the nutrients provided by colostrum and milk. Therefore, colostrum intake supports the start of anabolic processes in several tissues, stimulating postnatal body growth and organ development. After the colostrum feeding period, an intensive milk feeding protocol, that is, at least 20% of BW milk intake/day, is required to realise the calf potential for growth and organ development during the preweaning period. Insufficient milk intake delays postnatal growth and may have detrimental effects on organ development, for example, the intestine and the mammary gland. The somatotropic axis as the main postnata lendocrine regulatory system for body growth is stimulated by the intake of high amounts of colostrum and milk and indicates the promotion of anabolic metabolism in calves. The development of the forestomach is an important issue during the preweaning period in calves, and forestomach maturation is best achieved by solid feed intake. Unfortunately, intensive milk-feeding programmes compromise solid feed intake during the first weeks of life. In the more natural situation for beef calves, when milk and solid feed intake occurs at the same time, calves benefit from the high milk intake as evidenced by enhanced body growth and organ maturation without impaired forestomach development during weaning. To realise an intensive milk-feeding programme, it is recommended that the weaning process should not start too early and that solid feed intake should be at a high extent despite intensive milk feeding. A feeding concept based on intensive milk feeding prevents hunger and abnormal behaviour of the calves and fits the principles of animal welfare during preweaning calf rearing. Studies on milk performance indairy cows indicate that feeding management during early calf rearing influences lifetime performance. Therefore, an intensive milk-feeding programme affects immediate as well as long-term performance, probably by programming metabolic pathways during the preweaning period.



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