Diet Influences Early Microbiota Development in Dairy Calves without Long-Term Impacts on Milk Production.


Department of Bacteriology, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, Wisconsin, USA [Email]


Gastrointestinal tract (GIT) microorganisms play important roles in the health of ruminant livestock and affect the production of agriculturally relevant products, including milk and meat. Despite this link, interventions to alter the adult microbiota to improve production have proven ineffective, as established microbial communities are resilient to change. In contrast, developing communities in young animals may be more easily altered but are less well studied. Here, we measured the GIT-associated microbiota of 45 Holstein dairy cows from 2 weeks to the first lactation cycle, using Illumina amplicon sequencing of bacterial (16S rRNA V4), archaeal (16S rRNA V6 to V8), and fungal (internal transcribed region 1 [ITS1]) communities. Fecal and ruminal microbiota of cows raised on calf starter grains and/or corn silage were correlated to lifetime growth as well as milk production during the first lactation cycle, in order to determine whether early-life diets have long-term impacts. Significant diet-associated differences in total microbial communities and specific taxa were observed by weaning (8 weeks), but all animals reached an adult-like composition between weaning and 1 year. While some calf-diet-driven differences were apparent in the microbiota of adult cows, these dissimilarities did not correlate with animal growth or milk production. This finding suggests that initial microbial community establishment is affected by early-life diet but postweaning factors have a greater influence on adult communities and production outcomes.IMPORTANCE The gut microbiota is essential for the survival of many organisms, including ruminants that rely on microorganisms for nutrient acquisition from dietary inputs for the production of products such as milk and meat. While alteration of the adult ruminant microbiota to improve production is possible, changes are often unstable and fail to persist. In contrast, the early-life microbiota may be more amenable to sustained modification. However, few studies have determined the impact of early-life interventions on downstream production. Here, we investigated the impact of agriculturally relevant calf diets, including calf starter and corn silage, on gut microbial communities, growth, and production through the first lactation cycle. Thus, this work serves to further our understanding of early-life microbiota acquisition, as well as informing future practices in livestock management.


dairy calf,dairy cow,microbiota,rumen,