Stress-related hormonal alterations, growth and pelleted starter intake in pre-weaning Holstein calves in response to thermal stress
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This study aimed to investigate the effect of heat stress and month of birth on growth performance, pelleted starter intake, and stress-related hormones in Holstein calves. Birth weight and growth records, representing 4735 Holstein calves from a large commercial dairy herd in northern Mexico (25° N; 22.3 °C mean annual temperature) from 2013 to 2015, were analyzed. Temperature-humidity index (THI) at calving, season of birth, and month of birth were the independent variables, whereas growth traits were the dependent variables. Increased THI at birth from < 65 to > 85 units was associated with a decrease in birth weight from 39.3 to 38.7 kg. Calves subjected to high THI (> 75 units) at calving showed lesser (P < 0.01) pre-weaning gains (405 ± 97 g/calf/day), whereas those calves born with THI < 70 units presented the highest gains (466 ± 112 g/calf/day). Birth during the fall months reduced (P < 0.01) weaning weight by about 5 kg compared with winter months. Also, the pre-weaning average daily gain for calves born in the fall was about 70 g less (P < 0.01) than calves delivered in winter months. Plasma triiodothyronine and tetraiodothyronine levels were lower (1.02 ± 0.21 and 48 ± 7.9 ng/mL, respectively; P < 0.01) in summer and highest in winter (1.64 ± 0.48 and 66 ± 11 ng/mL, respectively). Mean plasma cortisol concentration was higher in heat-stressed calves born in summer (59 ± 40 ng/mL) than calves born in winter (20 ± 28 ng/mL). Pelleted starter intake 1 week before weaning was lowest (P < 0.01) in the fall (0.82 ± 0.26 kg/calf/day; mean ± SD) and highest in spring (1.26 ± 0.43 kg/calf/day). It was concluded that in this particular environment, heat stress affects birth weight and growth rate of Holstein calves. Thus, environmental management of the newborn calf during hot spring and summer months is warranted to optimize pelleted starter intake and calf growth rates.
KeywordsHeat stress Birth weight Weaning weight Daily weight gain Plasma cortisol Feed intake
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Conflict of interest
The authors declare that they have no conflicts of interest.
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