Straw particle size in calf starters: Effects on digestive system development and rumen fermentation

F. X. Suarez-Mena, A. J. Heinrichs, C. M. Jones, T. M. Hill, J. D. Quigley

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

27 Scopus citations


Two trials were conducted to determine effects of straw particle size in calf starter on rumen fermentation and development in calves. Holstein calves (n=17 in trial 1; n=25 in trial 2) were housed in individual pens; bedding (wood shavings) was covered with landscape fabric to completely avoid consumption of bedding. Milk replacer was fed at 12% of birth body weight per day and water offered free choice. Calves were randomly assigned to 4 treatments differing in geometric mean particle length (Xgm) of straw comprising 5% of starter dry matter. Straw was provided within the pellet at manufacture (PS; 0.82mm Xgm) or mixed with the pellet at time of feeding at Xgm of 3.04 (SS), 7.10 (MS), or 12.7 (LS) mm. Calves (n=12; 3/treatment) in trial 1 were fitted with a rumen cannula by wk 2 of age. A fixed amount of starter that was adjusted with age and orts were fed through the cannula in cannulated calves. Calves were euthanized 6 wk after starter was offered (9 and 7 wk of age for trials 1 and 2, respectively). Rumen digesta pH linearly decreased with age, whereas volatile fatty acid concentration increased with age. Overall pH had a cubic trend with SS lower than that of PS and MS. Molar proportion of acetate decreased with age whereas propionate proportion increased. Overall molar proportions of volatile fatty acids were not affected by diet. Fecal Xgm was not different in spite of changes in diet particle size and rumen digesta of PS being greater than SS, MS, and LS at slaughter. Fecal pH and starch concentration were not affected by diet; however, pH decreased whereas starch content increased with age. Weight of stomach compartments, rumen papillae length and width, and rumen wall thickness did not differ between diets. Omasum weight as a percentage of body weight at harvest linearly decreased as straw particle size increased. Under the conditions of this study, modifying straw particle length in starter grain resulted in minimal rumen fermentation parameter changes and no changes in rumen development. Rumen pH and fermentation changes with age were likely effects of increasing starter intake.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)341-353
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of dairy science
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2016

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Food Science
  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • Genetics


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