Digestive development in neonatal dairy calves with either whole or ground oats in the calf starter

F. X. Suarez-Mena, A. J. Heinrichs, C. M. Jones, T. M. Hill, J. D. Quigley

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25 Scopus citations


A series of 3 trials was conducted to determine effects of whole or ground oats in starter grain on reticulorumen fermentation and digestive system development of preweaned calves. Male Holstein calves (43.1. ±. 2.3. kg at birth; n. =. 8, 9, and 7 for trials 1, 2, and 3, respectively) were housed in individual pens in a heated facility; bedding was covered with landscape fabric to prevent consumption of bedding by the calves. In trials 1 and 2 only, calves were fitted with rumen cannulas by wk 2 of life. In all trials, a fixed amount of starter (containing 25% oats either ground and in the pellet or whole) was offered daily; orts were fed through the cannula in trials 1 and 2. Calves were randomly assigned to an all-pelleted starter or pellets plus whole oats. Rumen contents (trials 1 and 2) were sampled weekly at -8, -4, 0, 2, 4, 8, and 12 h after grain feeding for determination of pH and volatile fatty acids. Calves were killed 3 wk (trial 1) or 4 wk (trials 2 and 3) after grain was offered; organs were harvested, emptied, rinsed, and weighed to gauge digestive organ development. Starter intake was not different between treatments. Weekly measurements of rumen digesta pH did not change and only subtle changes were observed in molar proportions of individual volatile fatty acids. Molar proportion of butyrate and pH linearly decreased with age, whereas acetate proportion increased. Reticulorumen weight and papillae length tended to be greater for calves fed pelleted starter, whereas abomasum weight was greater for calves fed pellets plus whole oats. Fecal particle size and starch content were greater for calves fed pellets plus whole oats. Under the conditions of this study, physical form of oats in starter grain did not affect rumen fermentation measurements; greater rumen weight and papillae length in calves fed pelleted starter may be the result of greater nutrient availability of ground oats. Under the conditions of this study with young calves on treatments for <4 wk, increasing particle size of the starter by feeding whole oats did not affect rumen fermentation nor did it improve digestive system development.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3417-3431
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of dairy science
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 1 2015

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Food Science
  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • Genetics


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