Programming the Dairy Calf for a Healthy Life

24 April 2018

It has been four years since the launch of LifeStart, a science-based calf rearing programme aiming to give dairy farmers a better understanding of the mechanisms behind young animal development, health and performance.

Like epigenetics, LifeStart through metabolic programming supports early-stage calf development, and thereby supports greater growth and milk yield. And through an online communication platform, researchers, farm advisors, and farmers can access guidelines and the latest science behind the LifeStart Programme.

Nutreco company Trouw Nutrition, the firm behind LifeStart talks to us about how awareness for the calf rearing programme is increasing and how the LifeStart community continues to grow on a daily basis.

Leonel Leal, a Trouw Nutrition researcher in charge of the LifeStart science programme, also shares some of the company’s latest findings relevant towards the improvement of calf rearing. Joining in on the conversation was Alfredo Sanz Moreno, Programme Manager Young Animal Feeds.

[Feedinfo News Service] Mr. Leal, in partnership with several academic groups, Nutreco in 2014 began a five-year LifeStart study at Trouw Nutrition’s dairy research facility in the Netherlands. Briefly, what can you share about the work undertaken these past years?

[Leonel Leal] We demonstrated that compared with restricted feeding, a LifeStart feeding programme provoked major changes in metabolic profiles related with cell proliferation pathways, protein/energy metabolism and alterations of immune response. It was further highlighted that pre-weaning nutrient supply has clear short-term developmental and metabolic implications in calves, which could potentially be carried into adulthood. Our results provide a comprehensive overview of the major effects of pre-weaning nutrient supply in gene expression profiles in selected tissues, which are highly relevant to the dairy production system.

[Feedinfo News Service] Trouw Nutrition research talks about "restoring optimal natural development of the calf”. Can you expand on the comment?

[Leonel Leal] LifeStart is not about enhancing the productivity or the resilience of dairy cows, it is about restoring their potential that traditionally has been limited by the feed restriction they had in early life. For years, we believed that feeding calves just enough milk to lead them to weaning had no long-term implications. Now we have come to understand that not feeding calves adequately impairs their long-term productivity and resilience. From this point of view, LifeStart is a restoration

Nutreco company Trouw Nutrition, the firm behind LifeStart talks to us about how awareness for the calf rearing programme is increasing and how the LifeStart community continues to grow on a daily basis.

Leonel Leal, a Trouw Nutrition researcher in charge of the LifeStart science programme, also shares some of the company’s latest findings relevant  towards the improvement of calf rearing. Joining in on the conversation was  Alfredo Sanz Moreno, Programme Manager Young Animal Feeds.

[Feedinfo News Service] Mr. Leal, in partnership with several academic groups, Nutreco in 2014 began a five-year LifeStart study at Trouw Nutrition’s dairy research facility in the Netherlands. Briefly, what can you share about the work undertaken these past years?

[Leonel Leal] We demonstrated that compared with restricted feeding, a LifeStart feeding programme provoked major changes in metabolic profiles related with cell proliferation pathways, protein/energy metabolism and alterations of immune response. It was further highlighted that pre-weaning nutrient supply has clear short-term developmental and metabolic implications in calves, which could potentially be carried into adulthood. Our results provide a comprehensive overview of the major effects of pre-weaning nutrient supply in gene expression profiles in selected tissues, which are highly relevant to the dairy production system.

[Feedinfo News Service] Trouw Nutrition research talks about "restoring optimal natural development of the calf”. Can you expand on the comment?

[Leonel Leal] LifeStart is not about enhancing the productivity or the resilience of dairy cows, it is about restoring their potential that traditionally has been limited by the feed restriction they had in early life. For years, we believed that feeding calves just enough milk to lead them to weaning had no long-term implications. Now we have come to understand that not feeding calves adequately impairs their long-term productivity and resilience. From this point of view, LifeStart is a restoration of the natural potential of the animals.

[Feedinfo News Service] How does the LifeStart Programme differ from other   companies' epigenetics programmes?

[Leonel Leal] The LifeStart Programme acknowledges any effort in our industry to improve the rearing of calves, because only by joining efforts of all players we can cover all the dimensions needed to rear calves into healthy and highly productive dairy cows. The contribution of Trouw Nutrition puts emphasis on nutrition but is much broader. Calf management in very early life and the management of weaning deserve our attention as much as milk replacer quality. The true differentiating factor of LifeStart in Trouw Nutrition is our commitment to scientifically unveil the mode of action of this paradigm shift in calf rearing. And new insights from LifeStart science result in a new product innovation we are preparing to launch soon. 

[Feedinfo News Service] LifeStart is also about a communication platform and the LifeStart community. Can you expand on customer involvement in the LifeStart project? And what kind of feedback did you pick up at the LifeStart Symposium which you held in October 2017?

[Alfredo Sanz Moreno] There was great enthusiasm about the level of expertise, embodied by the different speakers. The fact that a good start in life impacts calf development even beyond weaning intrigued many attendees. We noticed people are increasingly interested and aware that, in order to perform well in dairy farming, good rearing practices lay the foundation for success. That interest got reflected in an increase in visitors to our website and engagement on social media. The community is growing. But more importantly, our operating companies closely cooperate with feed industry partners in organizing customer events, sharing know-how and protocols to achieve the LifeStart goals. 

[Feedinfo News Service] Across the global dairy sector how widely-adopted   is LifeStart today?

[Alfredo Sanz Moreno] We believe that every farmer across the global dairy   sector should be aware of the latest insights from LifeStart science and utilize that knowledge to improve calf rearing in their units. Based on the volume of customer enquiries we receive and our commercial presence in over 30 countries, we see the LifeStart community growing on a daily basis. Our   objective is to provide sound technical advice to as many dairy farmers as we   possibly can. 

[Feedinfo News Service] Combined with the LifeStart Programme, LifeStart-approved milk replacer helps to rear calves into healthy and productive cows. Trouw Nutrition has taken a "total solutions" rather than a product-by-product approach, but since the launch of LifeStart, how have sales of your milk replacer products fared?

[Alfredo Sanz Moreno] We can substantiate with our total solutions approach how the start of life sets life performance. This means we not only focus on the first two months of life, but will be able to advise farmers on the full lifecycle of the dairy cow in order to unlock the full potential of every animal. With our calf milk replacer brands, such as Sprayfo, we always had a leading position to ovide high-quality milk products. When we introduced the LifeStart Program years ago we were part of building awareness on the importance of calf rearing within managing a dairy herd and farm. This shift in focus has also represented an increase in our premium range of calf milk replacers.

[Feedinfo News Service] What will be the next steps in LifeStart R&D?

[Leonel Leal] We are aiming to build a comprehensive database on the entire productive life of the cows in our study. That will enable us to have a closer look at lactation efficiency, fertility, longer-term survival and ongoing metabolic changes (through metabolomics). In such a dynamic project, it is important to be open for new research (not planned yet) that will certainly arise until the end of the study.