Dairy Calf Neonatal Programming Opportunities with Methionine

Posted on June 3, 2021 in Starting Strong - Calf Care
By Dr. Noah Litherland, Vita Plus dairy technical specialist
Neonatal programming is the effect of maternal nutrition, environment, physiology and stress on the calf during gestation.  Performance in early life is largely impacted by the management and nutrition decisions made during the first hours and weeks of life.  An opportunity exists to modify the performance of calves before birth.

We can look at this in two ways:

  1. We can minimize the neonatal programming factors that negatively impact calf performance, such as heat stress in dry cows and excessive body condition.
  2. We can optimize neonatal programming factors that positively impact calf performance, such as feeding supplemental methionine to dry cows.

Methionine is an essential amino acid that is important in many metabolic functions, including lipid metabolism, nucleotide synthesis (DNA/RNA synthesis), protein synthesis and coping with oxidative stress.  Methionine plays a critical role in making new protein inside cells – a step that is always occurring as older proteins breakdown or during rapid growth.  Methionine is used to produce other important molecules in the calf.  For example, methionine is used to produce cysteine.  Cysteine can be used to create glutathione.  Glutathione is part of glutathione peroxidase, which works as a powerful antioxidant to decrease cellular stress.

Researchers at the University of Illinois fed supplemental methionine to cows prior to expected calving and measured neonatal nutrition effects (summarized below).  Supplementing dry cows with methionine appears to have a neonatal programming effects, resulting in increases in metabolism, decreases in some markers of oxidative stress, and indication of increased growth potential in calves during the nursery phase.

As demonstrated by these studies, neonatal programming can be another piece of the puzzle in raising healthy, high-performing calves.

Jacometo et al., 2016:  Cows fed rumen-protected methionine from 21 days prepartum
Calves from methionine-supplemented cows had greater insulin sensitivity, decreased markers of oxidative stress, and increased markers of fat and glucose metabolism.

Jacometo et al., 2017:  Cows fed rumen-protected methionine from 21 days prepartum through 30 days postpartum
Cows fed methionine had increased plasma methionine, greater DMI and lower blood haptoglobin (a marker of inflammation); no difference in colostrum.  Researchers also observed increased methionine in calves through two weeks of age.

Jacometo., 2018:  Cows fed rumen-protected methionine from 21 days prepartum through 30 days postpartum
Researchers observed Increased blood markers of immune competence and ability to respond to immune challenge. 

Abdulrahman et al., 2018:  Control versus supplemental dietary methionine 28 days prior to calving; calves from the control and methionine-treated dams were split into groups and fed either control colostrum or colostrum from methionine-supplemented dams to determine if the effect of methionine is in utero, occurs through the colostrum or both.
Colostrum quality and quantity were not impacted by dietary treatment. Calves from cows fed methionine prepartum had greater bodyweight, hip height and withers height at birth.  Average daily gain (ADG) for the study was low, but calves from dams fed methionine had significantly greater ADG when compared with control-fed cows. Respiratory scores were similar across treatments, but manure scores of calves from cows supplemented with methionine tended to be lower.

Xu et al., 2018:  Control versus methionine-supplemented dams in the last 28 days of gestation
Calves from methionine-supplemented cows had increased birth bodyweight and greater ADG at eight weeks of age.

Category: Starting Strong - Calf Care
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