The effect of dietary phosphorus on bone development in dairy heifers

N. M. Esser, P. C. Hoffman, W. K. Coblentz, M. W. Orth, K. A. Weigel

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16 Scopus citations


Phosphorus requirements, as percent of dietary dry matter for heifers (0.20-0.35%) and endogenous levels of P in feeds (0.20-0.35% of dry matter) are similar, suggesting that supplementation of P in heifer diets may be infrequently required. Because long-term studies are unavailable, 183 Holstein heifers and 182 Holstein × Jersey crossbred heifers were fed diets with (0.39%) and without (0.29%) supplemental P from 4 to 21 mo of age in a replicated pen design. Two subpopulations of heifers were selected mid-trial for intensive measurement of bone development and metabolism. Thirty-two heifers at 628 d (±10.0 d) of age, balanced by breed and diet, were evaluated for bone development. External frame measurements included hip height, length, heart girth, hip width, cannon bone circumference, pelvic length, pelvic height, and pelvic width. Tails of heifers were surgically amputated with the 13 and 14th coccygeal vertebrae retained. After tissue removal, the 13th coccygeal vertebrae were scanned using peripheral quantitative computed tomography with cortical, trabecular, and total bone densities determined. A second subpopulation (n = 64) of heifers (375 d ± 33 d), balanced for breed and diet, were evaluated for serum pyridinoline and osteocalcin to assess systemic bone metabolism. Data were analyzed as a completely randomized design with breed, treatment, and their interaction in the model. External skeletal measurements revealed significant differences in hip height, hip width, heart girth, cannon bone circumference, and pelvic length between Holstein and crossbred heifers. Supplementing P had no effect on external frame measurements, bone density, or bone metabolism markers. Bone P content was lower (18.1 vs. 18.6%) in heifers fed no supplemental P. Data suggest P supplementation to heifers modestly increased bone P content but increased bone P was not reflected in frame growth, bone density, or bone metabolism.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1741-1749
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Dairy Science
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2009


  • Bone
  • Heifer
  • Phosphorus


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