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Domest Anim Endocrinol. 2010 Feb;38(2):86-94. doi: 10.1016/j.domaniend.2009.08.005. Epub 2009 Sep 18.

Metabolic adaptations to heat stress in growing cattle.

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Department of Animal Sciences, The University of Arizona, Tucson 85721, USA.


To differentiate between the effects of heat stress (HS) and decreased dry matter intake (DMI) on physiological and metabolic variables in growing beef cattle, we conducted an experiment in which a thermoneutral (TN) control group (n=6) was pair fed (PF) to match nutrient intake with heat-stressed Holstein bull calves (n=6). Bulls (4 to 5 mo old, 135 kg body weight [BW]) housed in climate-controlled chambers were subjected to 2 experimental periods (P): (1) TN (18 degrees C to 20 degrees C) and ad libitum intake for 9 d, and (2) HS (cyclical daily temperatures ranging from 29.4 degrees C to 40.0 degrees C) and ad libitum intake or PF (in TN conditions) for 9 d. During each period, blood was collected daily and all calves were subjected to an intravenous insulin tolerance test (ITT) on day 7 and a glucose tolerance test (GTT) on day 8. Heat stress reduced (12%) DMI and by design, PF calves had similar nutrient intake reductions. During P1, BW gain was similar between environments and averaged 1.25 kg/d, and both HS and PF reduced (P<0.01) average daily gain (-0.09 kg/d) during P2. Compared to PF, HS decreased (P<0.05) basal circulating glucose concentrations (7%) and tended (P<0.07) to increase (30%) plasma insulin concentrations, but neither HS nor PF altered plasma nonesterified fatty acid concentrations. Although there were no treatment differences in P2, both HS and PF increased (P<0.05) plasma urea nitrogen concentrations (75%) compared with P1. In contrast to P1, both HS and PF had increased (16%) glucose disposal, but compared with PF, HS calves had a greater (67%; P<0.05) insulin response to the GTT. Neither period nor environment acutely affected insulin action, but during P2, calves in both environments tended (P=0.11) to have a blunted overall glucose response to the ITT. Independent of reduced nutrient intake, HS alters post-absorptive carbohydrate (basal and stimulated) metabolism, characterized primarily by increased basal insulin concentrations and insulin response to a GTT. However, HS-induced reduction in feed intake appears to fully explain decreased average daily gain in Holstein bull calves.

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