Calf Growth Assessment Method Developed at UNH

Wednesday, October 11, 2017


Matt Simon

In an excellent example of interdisciplinary collaboration, researchers from the UNH College of Life Sciences and Agriculture (COLSA) and the University Instrumentation Center (UIC) recently teamed up to develop and evaluate a new, patent-pending method for analyzing calf body composition via Nuclear Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy (NMR). Patricia Wilkinson, Analytical Instrumentation Scientist in the UIC and Pete Erickson, Professor and Extension Dairy Specialist in the UNH Department of Agriculture, Nutrition, and Food Systems and Colleen Chapman, former graduate student spearheaded the project. 

Optimizing the feeding programs of dairy cattle is important for the health and profitability of dairy operations. Analyzing the protein, water, and fat content of calves helps researchers determine how feed nutrients are partitioned in their bodies and evaluate their growth. Recommendations can then be made to the dairy industry for improved feed programs. The goal is to increase the development of protein in the calves (muscle and mammary gland) to reduce the time it takes for them to reach breeding size and become milk producers.

Traditionally, the most accurate way of measuring the body composition of a calf is to slaughter the animal and analyze its tissue. However, this method is expensive, time-consuming, and precludes any measurements of further growth and changes in composition over time, which are important to evaluating the success of any feed program changes. Body composition assessment using a process called deuterium oxide (D2O or “heavy water”) dilution has successfully been used as an alternative to the slaughter method, but the existing D2O analysis methods required of this protocol are expensive and time consuming. UNH’s patent-pending assessment utilizes some of the UIC’s state-of-the-art instrumentation to calculate the percentage of D2O in blood samples, making it a quick, accurate, and generally cost-efficient alternative. The accuracy and efficacy of this new method has been evaluated in 96 replications conducted at UNH and validated in a private industry lab. 

In the fall of 2016, Wilkinson and Erickson formed a team to participate in the initial cohort of I-Corps™ trainees as part of the I-Corps Site Grant UNH received from the National Science Foundation (NSF) in early 2016. The I-Corp Site Grant fosters entrepreneurship on campus and supports the maturation of innovations developed at UNH from idea generation to commercialization. Wilkinson and Erickson used the I-Corps training to explore the potential market and business strategy for their innovative

UNH is currently interested in identifying researchers to work with as it further develops this method and begins offering calf assessment services to the industry. For more information, please contact

Matt Simon,
Licensing Manager, Physical Sciences