Corn processing and crude protein content in calf starter: Effects on growth performance, ruminal fermentation, and blood metabolites

J Dairy Sci. 2020 Oct;103(10):9037-9053. doi: 10.3168/jds.2020-18578. Epub 2020 Aug 6.


This study aimed to investigate the effects of feeding dairy calves starter diets containing corn grain processed by different methods (ground versus steam-flaked; GRC vs. SFC) and either 18% or 21% crude protein (CP) contents (dry matter basis) on growth performance, digestibility, ruminal fermentation, urinary purine derivatives, and blood metabolites of dairy calves. Holstein dairy calves (39.3 ± 1.9 kg of body weight, n = 12 calves per treatment, 6 males and 6 females) were randomly distributed to experimental diets in a 2 × 2 factorial arrangement of treatments. The 4 dietary treatments were (1) starter diet containing GRC and 18% dietary CP (GRC-18CP; geometric mean particle size, GMPS = 0.73 mm); (2) GRC and 21% dietary CP (GRC-21CP; GMPS = 0.71 mm); (3) SFC and 18% dietary CP (SFC-18CP; GMPS = 2.21 mm); and (4) SFC and 21% dietary CP (SFC-21CP; GMPS = 2.16 mm). Calves were weaned on d 63 and remained in the study until d 83 of age. The starter feed intake did not differ among treatments; however, average daily gain and feed efficiency (FE) were improved and final body weight was higher for SFC diets compared with GRC diets. The organic matter and nonfiber carbohydrate digestibilities were greater for calves fed the SFC diets than for those fed the GRC diets. The ruminal total volatile fatty acid concentrations and the molar proportions of propionate and butyrate were greater, and the molar proportion of acetate and NH3-N concentrations were lower, for calves fed the SFC diets than for those fed the GRC diets. The excretion of allantoin and total purine derivatives, and subsequently microbial protein synthesis, were greater for calves fed the SFC diets than the GRC diets. The total urinary nitrogen excretion and its proportion of N intake were lower for calves fed the SFC diets than the GRC diets. The blood concentrations of insulin (pre- and postweaning), glucose (postweaning), and β-hydroxybutyrate (preweaning) were greater and blood urea nitrogen (preweaning) was lower for calves fed the SFC diets than the GRC diets. The protein content of the concentrate did not affect feed intake, growth performance, or ruminal fermentation of the calves. The neutral detergent fiber digestibility was greater for calves fed the 21% CP diets than the 18% CP diets. No interaction between main effects was observed regarding the starter intake, average daily gain, body weight, FE, ruminal fermentation, and nutrient digestibility of calves. The interaction between corn grain processing and starter protein content was significant for withers and hip heights with the greatest values found for SFC-21CP treatment. Our results show that steam flaking of corn improved the organic matter and nonfiber carbohydrate digestibilities, weight gain, FE, and ruminal microbial protein synthesis, and reduced urinary nitrogen excretion compared with grinding corn. Regardless of the marginal benefit derived from feeding the diet containing SFC and 21% CP in the height of calves, lower starter protein content (18% CP) may be used efficiently when calves are fed the SFC diets.

Keywords: corn processing; crude protein; dairy calf; microbial protein synthesis; nitrogen efficiency.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial, Veterinary

MeSH terms

  • 3-Hydroxybutyric Acid / blood
  • Animal Feed* / analysis
  • Animals
  • Blood Urea Nitrogen
  • Body Weight
  • Cattle / blood*
  • Dairying
  • Diet / veterinary
  • Dietary Fiber / metabolism
  • Fatty Acids, Volatile / metabolism
  • Female
  • Fermentation
  • Male
  • Rumen / metabolism*
  • Weaning
  • Zea mays* / metabolism


  • Dietary Fiber
  • Fatty Acids, Volatile
  • 3-Hydroxybutyric Acid