The effect of maternal nutritional restriction on fetal development and performance of offspring in beef cattle

  • Molly Rainforth University of Alberta
Keywords: maternal nutrition, beef cattle, feed restriction, compensatory growth


Health, growth efficiency and carcass quality are major considerations in beef production. The foundation for this is thought to be linked to fetal development. Maternal nutrition during pregnancy is one factor that can influence fetal development and offspring growth. However, its specific effects on postnatal growth of castrated calves (steers) raised for meat are not well understood. This review considers the nutritional requirements of pregnant cows and summarizes the effect of maternal nutritional restriction throughout gestation on calf growth. It also evaluates the different developmental stage at which nutritional restriction will have the greatest impact. It is found that even though early gestation is a critical period for the formation of the placenta and the initial organ development, the fetus has the ability to compensate for developmental restrictions resulting from maternal malnutrition during this period. Meanwhile, during mid-to late gestation maternal nutritional restriction has the greatest impact on offspring performance. Maternal malnutrition during this key period can reduce birth weight, which is strongly correlated to the lifetime performance of steers in terms of health and growth efficiency. Proper nutritional management of cows is essential throughout gestation, but additional attention should be given to the mid-to-late gestational period to ensure calves are born at optimal birth weight. Further, it is suggested that maternal nutrition does not appear to have a consistent effect on carcass quality, instead, external factors near the time of slaughter may be the major determinants.