In our previous studies, we revealed the effect of lactose inclusion in calf starters on the growth performance and gut development of calves. We conducted the present study as a follow-up study to identify the shift in rumen microbiota and its relation to rumen fermentation when calves are fed a lactose-containing starter. Thirty Holstein bull calves were divided into 2 calf starter treatment groups: texturized calf starter (i.e., control; n = 15) or calf starter in which starch was replaced with lactose at 10% (i.e., LAC10; n = 15) on a dry matter basis. All calves were fed their respective treatment calf starter ad libitum from d 7, and kleingrass hay from d 35. Rumen digesta were collected on d 80 (i.e., 3 wk after weaning) and used to analyze rumen microbiota and fermentation products. There was no apparent effect of lactose feeding on the α-diversity and overall composition of rumen microbiota. Amplicon sequencing and real-time PCR quantification of the 16S rRNA gene confirmed that the abundance of butyrate-producing bacteria (i.e., Butyrivibrio group and Megasphaera elsdenii) did not differ between the control and LAC10 groups. Conversely, the relative abundance of Mitsuokella spp., which produce lactate, succinate, and acetate, was significantly higher in the rumen of calves that were fed lactose, whereas the lactate concentration did not differ between the control and LAC10 groups. These findings suggest that the lactate production can be elevated by an increase of Mitsuokella spp. and then converted into butyrate, not propionate, since the proportion of propionate was lower in lactose-fed calves. In addition, we observed a higher abundance of Coriobacteriaceae and Pseudoramibacter-Eubacterium in the LAC10 group. Both these bacterial taxa include acetate-producing bacteria, and a positive correlation between the acetate-to-propionate ratio and the abundance of Pseudoramibacter-Eubacterium was observed. Therefore, the higher abundance of Coriobacteriaceae, Mitsuokella spp., and Pseudoramibacter-Eubacterium in the rumen of lactose-fed calves partially explains the increase in the proportion of rumen acetate that was observed in our previous study.
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