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Small intestine histomorphometry of beef cattle with divergent feed efficiency

Yuri Montanholi1*, Ananda Fontoura2, Kendall Swanson3, Brenda Coomber4, Shigeto Yamashiro4 and Stephen Miller15*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Animal and Poultry Science, University of Guelph, 70-50 Stone Road East, Guelph, N1G 2W1, ON, Canada

2 Universidade Federal do Pará, Avenida Universitária s/n, 68745-000, Castanhal, Pará, Brasil

3 Department of Animal Sciences, North Dakota State University, PO box 6050, Fargo, 58108-6050, ND, USA

4 Department of Biomedical Sciences, University of Guelph, 3-50 Stone Road East, Guelph, N1G 2W1, ON, Canada

5 Livestock Gentec, 1400 College Plaza 8215-112 Street, Edmonton, T6G 2C8, AB, Canada

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Acta Veterinaria Scandinavica 2013, 55:9  doi:10.1186/1751-0147-55-9

Published: 5 February 2013



The provision of feed is a major cost in beef production. Therefore, the improvement of feed efficiency is warranted. The direct assessment of feed efficiency has limitations and alternatives are needed. Small intestine micro-architecture is associated with function and may be related to feed efficiency. The objective was to verify the potential histomorphological differences in the small intestine of animals with divergent feed efficiency.


From a population of 45 feedlot steers, 12 were selected with low-RFI (superior feed efficiency) and 12 with high-RFI (inferior feed efficiency) at the end of the finishing period. The animals were processed at 13.79 ± 1.21 months of age. Within 1.5 h of slaughter the gastrointestinal tract was collected and segments from duodenum and ileum were harvested. Tissue fragments were processed, sectioned and stained with hematoxylin and eosin. Photomicroscopy images were taken under 1000x magnification. For each animal 100 intestinal crypts were imaged, in a cross section view, from each of the two intestinal segments. Images were analyzed using the software ImageJ®. The measurements taken were: crypt area, crypt perimeter, crypt lumen area, nuclei number and the cell size was indirectly calculated. Data were analyzed using general linear model and correlation procedures of SAS®.


Efficient beef steers (low-RFI) have a greater cellularity (indicated by nuclei number) in the small intestinal crypts, both in duodenum and ileum, than less efficient beef steers (high-RFI) (P < 0.05). The mean values for the nuclei number of the low-RFI and high-RFI groups were 33.16 and 30.30 in the duodenum and 37.21 and 33.65 in the ileum, respectively. The average size of the cells did not differ between feed efficiency groups in both segments (P ≥ 0.10). A trend was observed (P ≤ 0.10) for greater crypt area and crypt perimeter in the ileum for cattle with improved feed efficiency.


Improved feed efficiency is associated with greater cellularity and no differences on average cell size in the crypts of the small intestine in the bovine. These observations are likely to lead to an increase in the energy demand by the small intestine regardless of the more desirable feed efficiency.

Bovine; Duodenum; Functional workload; Ileum; Intestinal epithelium; Intestinal crypts; Residual feed intake