Weaning age influences indicators of rumen function and development in female Holstein calves
Background Prenatal and postnatal conditions are crucial for the development of calves. Primiparous cows are still maturing during pregnancy, thus competing with the nutritional needs of their offspring. Therefore, mature cows might provide a superior intrauterine condition. Furthermore, weaning calves at an older age might affect them positively as well by reducing stress and offering time for various organs and their functions to develop. We aimed to evaluate effects of mothers’ parity and calves’ weaning age on gastrointestinal development and corresponding acid–base balance. Fifty-nine female German Holstein calves (about 8 days old) were investigated in a 2 × 2 factorial experiment with factors weaning age (7 vs. 17 weeks) and parity of mother (primiparous vs. multiparous). Calves were randomly assigned to one of these four groups. Animal behavior that was observed included resting, chewing and active behavior. Results Behavioral patterns were interactively affected by time and weaning age. Rumen sounds per 2 min increased in early-weaned calves during their weaning period. In late-weaned calves a consistently increase in rumen sounds was already recorded before their weaning period. Urinary N-containing compounds (creatinine, hippuric acid, uric acid, urea, allantoin) were interactively affected by time and weaning age. Concentrations of all measured compounds except urea increased during early weaning. All except hippuric acid concentration decreased in early-weaned calves after weaning. In late-weaned calves allantoin and uric acid increased before weaning and did not change during weaning. Conclusion These results suggest that late-weaned calves developed adequate rumen functions and acid–base balance, whereas early-weaned calves might have suffered from ruminal acidosis and catabolism. Weaning calves at 7 weeks of age might be too early for an adequate rumen development.