The current study evaluated the effects of protein provision to calves fed a combination of solid feed (SF) and milk replacer (MR) at equal total N intake on urea recycling and N retention. Nitrogen balance traits and [15N2]urea kinetics were measured in 30 calves (23 wk of age, 180 ± 3.7 kg of body weight), after being exposed to the following experimental treatments for 11 wk: a low level of SF with a low N content (SF providing 12% of total N intake), a high level of SF with a low N content (SF providing 22% of total N intake), or a high level of SF with a high N content (SF providing 36% of total N intake). The SF mixture consisted of 50% concentrates, 25% corn silage, and 25% straw on a dry matter basis. Total N intake was equalized to 1.8 g of N·kg of BW-0.75·d-1 by adjusting N intake via MR. All calves were housed individually on metabolic cages to allow for quantification of a N balance of calves for 5 d, and for the assessment of urea recycling from [15N2]urea kinetics. Increasing low-N SF intake at equal total N intake resulted in a shift from urinary to fecal N excretion but did not affect protein retention (0.71 g of N·kg of BW-0.75·d-1). Increasing low-N SF intake increased urea recycling but urea reused for anabolism remained unaffected. Total-tract neutral detergent fiber digestibility decreased (-9%) with increasing low-N SF intake, indicating reduced rumen fermentation. Increasing the N content of SF at equal total N intake resulted in decreased urea production, excretion, and return to ornithine cycle, and increased protein retention by 17%. This increase was likely related to an effect of energy availability on protein retention due to an increase in total-tract neutral detergent fiber digestion (>10%) and due to an increased energy supply via the MR. In conclusion, increasing low-N SF intake at the expense of N intake from MR, did not affect protein retention efficiency in calves. Increasing the N content of SF at equal total N intake decreased urea production, increased protein retention, and coincided with improved fiber degradation. Therefore, results suggest that low N availability in the rumen limits microbial growth and rumen fermentation in calves fed low-N SF (93 g of CP/kg of DM), and this effect cannot be compensated for by recycling of urea originating from MR.
- heavy preruminant calves
- rumen development