How Does Late Gestation Canola Supplementation of Cows Affect Calf Performance?

Project Title

Canola Supplementation of Cows in Late Gestation Leads to Increased Calf Growth and Modification of Epigenetic, Gene Expression, and Blood Metabolite Profiles


Carolyn Fitzsimmons

Bart Lardner - University of Saskatchewan, Liang Li - University of Alberta, Greg Penner - University of Saskatchewan

Status Project Code
In progress. Results expected in July, 2026 FDE.01.19


In a previous study, researchers at the University of Saskatchewan found that supplementing cows with canola pellets in the second and third trimester resulted in calves that were bigger, grew better and had a higher carcass weights than calves from dams that weren’t supplemented. Calves from supplemented damns had carcass weights 48 lbs. higher than those whose dams weren’t supplemented. In this trial dams were fed diets that contained the same among of energy, it was just the source that it came from that was varied (barley grain vs. canola pellets). Also all calves were fed the same diets from birth to finishing so any differences seen were assumed to be due to dam supplementation. Researcher also found that dam diet affected the expression of a gene that controls muscle growth and development, suggesting that supplementing during pregnancy may alter the way genes that control calf growth are expressed.


  • To determine if and how prenatal supplementation of cows affects calf gene expression

What they will do

In this trial researchers will build on previous work to take a closer look at how supplementation of the cow is affecting calf gene expression. Twelve groups of six cows each will be fed one of four different diets. Diets will contain either 0, 150, 300 or 450 g/cow/day of fat from a canola based pellet. Cows will receive the treatment from the start of the second trimester until 50% of the cows have calved.  Calves from all dams will be managed similarly from weaning through to slaughter. Calf weights will be measure throughout as well as dry matter intake during backgrounding and finishing and carcass traits.

Researchers will collect liver, muscle, and fat samples from calves to look for changes in gene expression, methylation of DNA, and metabolic profiles of the blood. Researchers will analyze DNA using the reduced representation bisulfite sequencing (RRBS) system for differentially methylated regions (DMR’s) between the control and canola calves. When they find regions that are different, they will drill down to the RNA level to try to measure gene expression. Researcher will then see if they can isolate the same DMRs using a different method so that samples could be easily collected from live animals. If DMRs can be found there is the potential to use them for markers in future studies.


 Although a lot of work is being done in the field of epigenetics, it is still not well understood how the dams diet affects a calf at the genetic level. This should lead to a better understanding of why fat supplementation increases calf performance, and eventually could lead to management practice that would increase calf growth.