The objective of this work was to assess the effects of age and gastrointestinal location (rumen vs. colon) on bacterial community diversity and composition, as well as short-chain fatty acid profiles of preruminant male Holstein calves on an intensive milk replacer feeding program. Thirty-two calves were fed at 2% of their body weight (dry matter basis) from d 10 until harvest. Sixteen calves were euthanized at 2 wk and another 16 at 4 wk of age to collect digesta samples from the rumen and colon. The rumen and colon bacterial communities of preruminant calves showed a similar degree of diversity (i.e., Shannon index) whereas composition differed considerably. The colonic bacterial population was characterized by dominance of lactic acid bacteria such as Lactobacillus, Streptococcus, Enterococcus, and Bifidobacterium. In addition, colonic short-chain fatty acid and lactic acid concentrations were between 50 and 850% higher than in the rumen, indicating greater fermentative activity in the colon. On the other hand, in the rumen, no genus over-dominated and more variation was present among calves. Because of an active reticular groove and low starter grain intake during the first 1 to 3 wk of life, ruminal fermentation may not contribute to significant metabolizable energy supply until after 4 wk of life in intensively fed calves. Until then, calf hindgut fermentation, characterized by high abundance of lactic acid bacteria along with increased lactate and butyrate concentrations, could be beneficial for intestinal health and survival of the calf during the first weeks of life.
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The authors greatly appreciate the technical help of the many graduate and undergraduate students in the Department of Animal Sciences (University of Illinois) in care of calves, sampling, and harvest processing of calves. Partial financial support and milk replacer manufacturing was provided by Milk Specialties Global Animal Nutrition (Eden Prairie, MN). The authors thank Land O’Lakes Animal Milk Co. (Arden Hills, MN) for donation of the electrolyte product.
- gut health
- short-chain fatty acids