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Br J Nutr. 2014 May;111(9):1705-11. doi: 10.1017/S0007114513004078. Epub 2014 Jan 6.

Plasma nitrogen isotopic fractionation and feed efficiency in growing beef heifers.

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  • 1Animal and Grassland Research and Innovation Centre, Teagasc, Grange, Dunsany, County Meath, Republic of Ireland.
  • 2Faculty of Agriculture and Life Sciences, PO Box 84, Lincoln University, Lincoln, New Zealand.


Fractionation of N isotopes occurs in many metabolic reactions which causes tissue proteins to become enriched in ¹⁵N while urea (urine) is depleted in ¹⁵N relative to the diet. We investigated ¹⁵N enrichment of whole plasma and its relationship with feed conversion efficiency (FCE) in growing beef heifers (n 84) offered 2 kg/d of concentrates with grass silage ad libitum. Heifers were on average 299 (SD 48·3) d old and weighed 311 (SD 48·8) kg. Plasma was obtained on day 79 (n 84) of the experiment and from a subset of animals (n 20) on four occasions between days 16 and 79. Silage DM intake (DMI) averaged 4·1 (SD 0·74) kg/d and concentrate DMI was 1·72 kg/d. Mean mid-test live weight was 333 (SD 47·6) kg, daily gain was 0·53 (SD 0·183) kg, FCE (g live-weight gain/g DMI) was 0·09 (SD 0·028) and residual feed intake (RFI) was 0 (SD 0·428). N isotopic fractionation (Δ¹⁵N; plasma δ¹⁵N - diet δ¹⁵N) averaged 3·58 ‰ on day 79 (n 84) and 3·90 ‰ for the subset of heifers. There was no relationship between Δ¹⁵N and RFI. Plasma δ¹⁵N and Δ¹⁵N were related to both FCE (negative) and animal weight (positive) for the whole population, and repeatable for the subset of animals over four time points. These relationships of Δ¹⁵N with FCE and animal weight are consistent with the anticipated negative relationship with N-use efficiency. There is potential to use Δ¹⁵N to provide rapid, low-cost estimates of FCE in cattle.

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