Article CC BY 4.0

Host metabolome and faecal microbiome shows potential interactions impacted by age and weaning times in calves


Calves undergo nutritional, metabolic, and behavioural changes from birth to the entire weaning period. An appropriate selection of weaning age is essential to reduce the negative effects caused by weaning-related dietary transitions. This study monitored the faecal microbiome and plasma metabolome of 59 female Holstein calves during different developmental stages and weaning times (early vs. late) and identified the potential associations of the measured parameters over an experimental period of 140 days.


A progressive development of the microbiome and metabolome was observed with significant differences according to the weaning groups (weaned at 7 or 17 weeks of age). Faecal samples of young calves were dominated by bifidobacterial and lactobacilli species, while their respective plasma samples showed high concentrations of amino acids (AAs) and biogenic amines (BAs). However, as the calves matured, the abundances of potential fiber-degrading bacteria and the plasma concentrations of sphingomyelins (SMs), few BAs and acylcarnitines (ACs) were increased. Early-weaning at 7 weeks significantly restructured the microbiome towards potential fiber-degrading bacteria and decreased plasma concentrations of most of the AAs and SMs, few BAs and ACs compared to the late-weaning event. Strong associations between faecal microbes, plasma metabolites and calf growth parameters were observed during days 42–98, where the abundances of Bacteroides, Parabacteroides, and Blautia were positively correlated with the plasma concentrations of AAs, BAs and SMs as well as the live weight gain or average daily gain in calves.


The present study reported that weaning at 17 weeks of age was beneficial due to higher growth rate of late-weaned calves during days 42–98 and a quick adaptability of microbiota to weaning-related dietary changes during day 112, suggesting an age-dependent maturation of the gastrointestinal tract. However, the respective plasma samples of late-weaned calves contained several metabolites with differential concentrations to the early-weaned group, suggesting a less abrupt but more-persistent effect of dietary changes on host metabolome compared to the microbiome.


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