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Individual animal variability in ruminal bacterial communities and ruminal acidosis in primiparous Holstein cows during the periparturient period

Mohammed, R., Stevenson, D.M., Weimer, P.J., Penner, G.B., Beauchemin, K.A. (2012). Individual animal variability in ruminal bacterial communities and ruminal acidosis in primiparous Holstein cows during the periparturient period, 95(11), 6716-6730.


The purpose of this study was to investigate variability among individual cows in their severity of ruminal acidosis (RA) pre- and postpartum, and determine whether this variability was related to differences in their ruminal bacterial community composition (BCC). Variability in the severity of RA among individual cows was characterized based on ruminal fermentation variables. Effects of prepartum dietary treatment on the severity of RA were also examined. Fourteen Holstein heifers paired by expected calving date and BCS were allotted to 1 of 2 prepartum dietary treatments: low-concentrate or high-concentrate diets. All cows received the same lactation diet postpartum. Microbial DNA extracted from 58 ruminal digesta samples in total collected prepartum (d -50, -31, and -14; 27 samples) and postpartum (d +14 and +52; 31 samples) and amplified by PCR were subjected to automated ribosomal intergenic spacer analysis. Changes in ruminal variables over time [pH, volatile fatty acids (VFA), and acidosis indicators, including duration and area under the rumen pH curve below 5.8, 5.5, and 5.2, measured on d -54, -35, -14, -3, +3, +17, +37, and +58] were analyzed using principal components analysis. Based on the shift (defined as the distance of the mean loadings) between the prepartum and postpartum period for each cow, the 14 cows were classified into 3 groups: least acidotic (n=5), most acidotic (n=5), and intermediate (n=4). Cows in the most acidotic group had greater severity of RA (measured as duration of total RA, mild RA, moderate RA, and acute RA; area under the pH curve for total RA, mild RA, and moderate RA) postpartum than prepartum, and this difference between periods was greater than for the least acidotic cows. Similarly, the RA index (total area of pH <5.8 normalized to intake) showed an interaction between severity of RA and period. The variation in the severity of RA was independent of intake, total VFA concentration, and individual VFA proportions. Production variables (milk yield, fat percentage, fat yield, fat-corrected milk, and efficiency of milk production) were not influenced by the severity of RA. Ruminal BCC was not influenced by dietary treatment or period. However, some cows experienced greater shift in BCC than other cows across the periods. Based on the magnitude of the shift in BCC (distance between mean ordination values across the periods for each cow), cows were grouped into 3 BCC profile categories: stable (5 cows with lesser shift), unstable (5 cows with greater shift), and intermediate (4 cows with average shift). Cows demonstrating a greater shift in BCC were not necessarily those in the most acidotic group and vice versa. The shift in ruminal fermentation variables (principal components analysis rankings) and the shift in BCC (automated ribosomal intergenic spacer analysis rankings) between pre- and postpartum were not related (n=14; R2=0.00). It was concluded that not all cows are equally susceptible to RA and postpartum shifts in BCC appear to be independent of the differences in the severity of RA postpartum. © 2012 American Dairy Science Association.

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