Increasing productivity is a key target in ruminant science which requires better understanding of the rumen microbiota. This study investigated how maternal versus artificial rearing shapes the rumen microbiota using 24 sets of triplet lambs. Lambs within each sibling set were randomly assigned to natural rearing on the ewe (NN); ewe colostrum for 24 h followed by artificial milk feeding (NA); and colostrum alternative and artificial milk feeding (AA). Maternal colostrum feeding enhanced VFA production at weaning but not thereafter. At weaning, lambs reared on milk replacer had no rumen protozoa and lower microbial diversity, whereas natural rearing accelerated the rumen microbial development and facilitated the transition to solid diet. Differences in the rumen prokaryotic communities disappear later in life when all lambs were grouped on the same pasture up to 23 weeks of age. However, NN animals retained higher fungal diversity and abundances of Piromyces, Feramyces and Diplodiniinae protozoa as well as higher feed digestibility (+4%) and animal growth (+6.5%) during the grazing period. Nevertheless, no correlations were found between rumen microbiota and productive outcomes. These findings suggest that the early life nutritional intervention determine the initial rumen microbial community, but the persistence of these effects later in life is weak.
- Nigel Rapport