Heifer nutrition during early- and mid-pregnancy alters fetal growth trajectory and birth weight

Anim Reprod Sci. 2010 Jan;117(1-2):1-10. doi: 10.1016/j.anireprosci.2009.03.010. Epub 2009 Apr 1.


Maternal nutrient intake during gestation can alter fetal growth. Whilst this has been studied extensively in the sheep, less is known about effects in the bovine. Composite-breed beef heifers were allocated to either a high (H/-=76 MJ metabolisable energy (ME) and 1.4 kg crude protein (CP)) or low (L/-=62 MJ ME and 0.4 kg CP daily) nutritional treatment at artificial insemination. Half of each nutritional group changed to an opposite nutritional group at the end of the first trimester (-/H=82 MJ ME and 1.4 kg CP; -/L=62 MJ ME and 0.4 kg CP daily), resulting in 4 treatment groups: HH (n=16); HL (n=19); LH (n=17); LL (n=19). During the third trimester all heifers were fed the same diets. Fetuses were measured at 4-weekly intervals beginning at day 39 of gestation. Calves were also measured at birth for physical body variables. Low maternal nutrient intake was associated with decreased crown-rump length at day 39 (P<0.01) and increased thoracic diameter at day 95 (P<0.01). Umbilical cord diameter was reduced in L/- fetuses in the first trimester (P<0.05) but was greater in -/L fetuses in the second trimester compared to their respective H counterparts (P<0.05). Calf birth weight was decreased in association with -/L maternal diets (P<0.05). In conclusion, fetal development of cattle may be affected by maternal nutrition as early as day 39 of gestation. This may be followed by either compensatory fetal growth, or alternatively, preferential fetal tissue growth that is dependant upon maternal nutrition. Clearly, calf birth weight may be altered by maternal nutrition during mid-gestation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animal Nutritional Physiological Phenomena*
  • Animals
  • Birth Weight / physiology*
  • Cattle / embryology*
  • Cattle / physiology*
  • Diet
  • Dietary Proteins / administration & dosage
  • Energy Intake
  • Female
  • Fetal Development / physiology*
  • Gestational Age*
  • Pregnancy


  • Dietary Proteins