Delayed abomasal emptying prevents the development of insulin resistance

One of the most common concerns when feeding young calves elevated planes of nutrition is the effect on insulin sensitivity[1]. Hyperglycaemia, hyperinsulinemia, and glucosuria are commonly observed in veal calves fed large volumes of milk early in life[2,3,4]. Insulin resistance could result in a reduced efficiency of protein and energy utilization[5] or could increase the risk of developing metabolic diseases at a later age[6,7]. The rate of abomasal emptying may reduce the speed of nutrient delivery to the small intestines and meals with high glucose levels have been shown to reduce the rate of gastric emptying[8]. Larger meals may also delay gastric emptying and thus help control blood glucose levels[9,10].

MacPherson et al[9,10] studied the effect of feeding high amounts of calf milk replacer on glucose metabolism and gastric emptying.

Key takeaways from the research

  • Delayed gastric emptying in calves fed high amounts of calf milk replacer reduces the speed of gut delivery of nutrients

  • Feeding dairy calves high planes of nutrition results in delayed gastric emptying

  • A high plane of nutrition does not increase the risk of insulin resistance

Study design

Two groups of 6 calves each were included in the study. Both groups were fed twice daily. One group was fed a restricted amount of 4 litres of calf milk replacer per day, the other group was fed an elevated plane of nutrition with 8 litres per day.

At 4, 7 and 10 weeks of age, abomasal emptying was determined by measuring the postprandial response to plasma glucose, insulin, and acetaminophen supplied with the meal and a glucose tolerance test was performed.


The rate of gastric emptying was reduced at 4 and 7 weeks in the calves fed the high planes of nutrition. Differences between the glucose tolerance tests carried out in both groups at 4, 7 and 10 weeks were not found.


It was concluded that a twice daily feeding schedule with high planes of nutrition does not induce insulin resistance.


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