Newborn dairy ruminants are usually separated from their dams after birth and fed on milk replacer. This lack of contact with adult animals may hinder the rumen microbiological and physiological development. This study evaluates the effects of rearing newborn goat kids in contact with adult companions on the rumen development. Thirty-two newborn goat kids were randomly allocated to two experimental groups which were reared either in the absence (CTL) or in the presence of non-lactating adult goats (CMP) and weaned at 7 weeks of age. Blood and rumen samples were taken at 5, 7, and 9 weeks of age to evaluate blood metabolites and rumen microbial fermentation. Next-generation sequencing was carried out on rumen samples collected at 7 weeks of age. Results showed that CTL kids lacked rumen protozoa, whereas CMP kids had an abundant and complex protozoal community as well as higher methanogen abundance which positively correlated with the body weight and blood β-hydroxybutyrate as indicators of the physiological development. CMP kids also had a more diverse bacterial community (+132 ASVs) and a different structure of the bacterial and methanogen communities than CTL kids. The core rumen bacterial community in CMP animals had 53 more ASVs than that of CTL animals. Furthermore, the number of ASVs shared with the adult companions was over 4-fold higher in CMP kids than in CTL kids. Greater levels of early rumen colonizers Proteobacteria and Spirochaetes were found in CTL kids, while CMP kids had higher levels of Bacteroidetes and other less abundant taxa (Veillonellaceae, Cyanobacteria, and Selenomonas). These findings suggest that the presence of adult companions facilitated the rumen microbial development prior to weaning. This accelerated microbial development had no effect on the animal growth, but CMP animals presented higher rumen pH and butyrate (+45%) and ammonia concentrations than CTL kids, suggesting higher fibrolytic and proteolytic activities. CMP kids also had higher blood β-hydroxybutyrate (+79%) and lower blood glucose concentrations (-23%) at weaning, indicating an earlier metabolic development which could favor the transition from pre-ruminant to ruminant after the weaning process. Further research is needed to determine the effects of this intervention in more challenging farm conditions.
- rumen colonization