Lee Dickerson discusses epigenetics and fetal programming | TSLN.com

Lee Dickerson discusses epigenetics and fetal programming

Bill Brewster

Fetal developmental programming and epigenetics are two hot topics that beef producers are going to hear more about in the future, according to Dr. Lee Dickerson, a Land of Lakes Purina Mills nutritionist.

Dickerson, who is also U.S. director of national accounts and cattle distribution, was among the featured speakers at the 2010 American Angus Association’s annual Conference and Tour in southwestern Montana.

During a presentation at the GranTree Inn in Bozeman, MT, the nutritionist told a standing-room crowded of producers that the effects of inadequate fetal nutrition have long lasting ramifications.

Dickerson said Purina has become “extremely” interested in sustained nutrition and lifetime performance because of epigenetic research that was driven by information obtained from World War II events like the Holocaust and Dutch winter hunger.

Epigenetics, he said, is a term used to describe the concept that environmental factors can cause an organism’s genes to behave differently even though the genes themselves don’t change. The changes brought about by fetal programming are not limited to the fetal period, which last through life and are passed on for future generations.

In the beef cattle industry, Dickerson said the primary concern with the health of brood cows begins when calves are on the ground.

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“The brood cow may be the only species where the industry plans on her to lose weight during gestation,” he said. “In other words, condition loss and maternal hunger are the norms.”

All stages of fetal development are critical, he pointed out.

During the first two-thirds of pregnancy, for example, a lot of the organs and muscle cells are developed. In the last trimester, over 75 percent of fetal growth occurs.

After birth, we see only the continued development of the cells that are already present, he noted.

“Now I wonder, what the cow looked like when she was in utero, he said. “Does it really matter what her body condition is when she calves?” he asked.

According to research at Oklahoma State University, a body condition score (BCS) of six is necessary for sustained nutrition, Dickerson said.

With first calf heifers, he said a lower BCS means weaker cattle and more assistance required at calving time.

In addition, research at Louisiana State University Ag Center showed that there was greater milk production in cattle with a BCS of seven and the antibodies in colostrum were greater.

“If you don’t take care of the mama, it’s an insult to the fetus,” he said. “The performance of a calf is influenced not only by its nutrition before birth and after birth but also by the prior nutrition of the granddam,” he added.

Dickerson suggested that sustained nutrition provided by programs like Purina Mills IM Technology on a year-round basis would provide a net return for producers. The actual cost to producers depends on intake because of forage quality.

He said the intake modifying technology creates the right balance of nutrients, ingredients and manufacturing techniques to develop products ideally suited to the animals’ life stage and the quality of existing forage. IM Technology triggers in the animal both a prehensile and a metabolic response.

editor’s note: information on purina’s im technology is available at http://cattle.purinamills.com/lifestagefeeding/resources/imtechnology/default.

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