Maternal body condition during late-pregnancy is associated with in utero development and neonatal growth of Holstein calves

A. S. Alharthi, D. N. Coleman, I. A. Alhidary, M. M. Abdelrahman, E. Trevisi, J. J. Loor

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Nutritional management in the dry period can alter body condition score (BCS) in dairy cows, a subjective measure of body fat. As such, differences in BCS during late-pregnancy not only mirror nutrient utilization by fat depots, but also can play important roles on the metabolic and hormonal environment. We investigated the association between cow BCS during late-pregnancy on developmental parameters and blood variables of neonatal calves. Forty-nine multiparous Holstein cows were retrospectively divided by prepartal BCS into normal BCS ≤3.25 (NormBCS; 3.02 ± 0.17, n = 30) or high BCS ≥3.75 (HighBCS; 3.83 ± 0.15, n = 19) groups. Plasma samples were collected from cows at − 10 d relative to parturition. Body weight, hip and wither height, hip width and body length were measured at birth and weekly through weaning (42 d of age) and until 9 weeks of age. Calf blood samples were collected from the jugular vein at birth (before receiving colostrum, 0 d), 24 h after first colostrum and at 7, 21, 42 and 50 d of age. The data were subjected to ANOVA using the mixed procedure of SAS. The statistical model included day, BCS, and their interactions. Results: Dry matter intake (kg/d or % of body weight) during the last 4 weeks of pregnancy was lower (P ≤ 0.06) in HighBCS cows. Plasma concentrations of fatty acids, ceruloplasmin, and nitric oxide were greater overall (P < 0.05) at d − 10 prior to calving in HighBCS cows, and they tended (P = 0.08) to have greater concentrations of reactive oxygen metabolites. Birth body weight was lower (P = 0.03) in calves born to dams with HighBCS. In addition, plasma concentrations of fatty acids, albumin and urea (P < 0.05) were greater in those calves. Although calves born to cows with HighBCS maintained a lower postnatal body weight (P = 0.04), hip and wither height, hip width, and body length, there was no difference (P > 0.05) in daily starter intake and average daily gain due to maternal BCS. Conclusions: Overall, results highlight an association between BCS during late-gestation on in utero calf development and postnatal growth. A high maternal BCS during late-gestation was associated with lower calf body weights, which could be due to lower maternal intakes and a state of inflammation and metabolic stress.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number44
JournalJournal of Animal Science and Biotechnology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 2021


  • Metabolism
  • Neonate
  • Nutritional programming
  • Transition cow

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biotechnology
  • Food Science
  • Biochemistry
  • Animal Science and Zoology


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