Inclusion of psyllium in milk replacer for neonatal calves. 2. Effects on volatile fatty acid concentrations, microbial populations, and gastrointestinal tract size

S. J. Cannon, G. C. Fahey, L. L. Pope, L. L. Bauer, R. L. Wallace, B. L. Miller, J. K. Drackley

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Fermentable fibers such as psyllium increase volatile fatty acid (VFA) concentrations in the lower digestive tract and increase the gastrointestinal tract (GIT) mass of many mammals. We reasoned that psyllium inclusion in milk replacer might produce similar effects in neonatal dairy calves, which could lead to improved growth and health. Male Holstein calves were fed a milk replacer (22% crude protein, 20% fat) either without or with psyllium (1.1% of dry matter, DM) from 2 d through 28 d of age. Milk replacer was reconstituted to 12.5% DM and fed at 12% of calf body weight, adjusted weekly. Water was offered ad libitum but no starter was fed. Three calves per treatment were harvested weekly to sample digesta from the reticulo-rumen, abomasum, jejunum, proximal colon, and distal colon, and to determine length and mass of GIT components. Psyllium in milk replacer increased the proportion of butyrate in reticulo-rumen contents from 2.4 to 3.2% of total but did not affect total VFA concentrations. Total VFA concentrations were very low in the jejunum but psyllium tended to increase total VFA, acetate, and valerate concentrations; valerate accounted for 15.9 and 16.7% of total VFA (molar basis) for control and psyllium calves, respectively. Psyllium increased total VFA concentrations in the proximal and distal colon by 104.4 and 45.6%, respectively, but had little effect on the profile of VFA. Psyllium in milk replacer increased populations of bifidobacteria (from 9.7 to 10.3 log10 cfu/g of DM) and lactobacilli (from 8.2 to 9.4 log10 cfu/g of DM) in the reticulo-rumen, but did not affect populations in jejunum or colon. Calves fed psyllium had 12.0% greater total GIT mass and 9.4% greater GIT as a percentage of body weight. Psyllium tended to increase mass of the reticulo-rumen and significantly increased mass of duodenum (34.2%), jejunum (14.5%), and colon (14.6%). Density of intestinal tissues from calves fed psyllium-supplemented milk replacer was 25.9% greater in the jejunum and 25.3% greater in the ileum, and tended to be greater in duodenum and colon than tissue from control calves. Supplementation of psyllium to milk replacer increased fermentation in the colon, mass of the total GIT, and populations of bifidobacteria and lactobacilli in the reticulo-rumen.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)4744-4758
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Dairy Science
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 2010


  • Dairy calf
  • Fermentation
  • Gastrointestinal mass
  • Psyllium

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Food Science
  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • Genetics


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