Epigenetics: Tracing the health
 of embryos through the generations

     Many livestock experts are prone to pontificate on the importance of  the first 60 days of a calf’s life.  They claim a calf’s highest genomic potential is the day it is born  and it has 60 days to reach its full genetic potential.  They are right, of course, but it is also helpful to take a look backward in time and examine previous generational factors influencing a calf’s health at birth.   

     Epigenetics is the study of changes produced in genetic expression without changes in the underlying genes or DNA sequence.  The genes are like switches that can be turned on or off by diet, toxins, stress, behavior, and other factors. These changes — both good and bad —  can be inherited by future generations.  If you think of a computer as a collection of genes (hardware), then epigenetics would be the computer program (software) that runs the computer.

     In light of the above, the health of a calf at birth is the end result of a series of events beginning at least a generation ago —and possibly as far  back as three or four generation. 

     Simply put,  this newborn calf was a dormant ovum in its mother’s immature ovary when its mother was an unborn calf in its mothers uterus, who was, in turn, a calf in its dam’s uterus, and so on back through several generations.  (See chart)   Anything you do or don’t do for the mother cow will affect future generations of her offspring.  

     One real-life example of epigenetics is the better health and production seen in dairy cattle a generation or two after switching to organic. Nutritious, toxin free organic crops affects genetic expression in a positive way.

     Applied to humans, “. . . if you are of reproductive age, what you eat, drink, breathe or experience can affect the health of your great-grandchildren in the same ay that  as you may be experiencing the effects — good or bad — of your great-grandparents experiences and environment.”

     You can’t change the past but you can use epigenetic principles to manage the diet and environment of your animals  to insure optimum genetic expression. 

     Providing adequate, balanced minerals to all breeding animals, at all times, is the keystone to good nutrition and to the preservation and improvement of genetic expression for future generations. 

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