The scientific community is showing increasing interest in what
is called the “developmental origins theory.” This theory postulates that the nutritional environment in the womb affects the risk of defects immediately apparent at birth, but also the lifelong risk of degenerative diseases.

Dr. Weston Price supported an early version of this theory in the 1930s-1940s. In Nutrition and Physical Degeneration, for example, he proposed that an increased risk of tuberculosis was largely determined by a deformation of the chest cavity that began taking shape in the womb and paralleled the deformation of the dental arch that causes crowded teeth. He also demonstrated an association between delinquent behavior and deformities of the dental arch and found some association with mentally-retarded children as well.

There has not been, to my knowledge, any similar study relating birth weights in calves to their development and health, much less to the impact on succeeding generations. In humans, the modern developmental origins theory observes that birth weight is determined in part by embryonic and fetal nutrition; and low birth weight in turn is associated with an increased risk of heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, diabetes and kidney disease. To explain these observations, the theory proposes that poor nutrition during pregnancy causes changes in the growth and development of the internal organs, which in turn affects the lifelong risk of degenerative disease. Since poor nutrition during this period can result in lower birth weight, an indirect association between birth weight and the risk of degenerative disease arises.

A 1995 study shows that the birth weight is determined by the environment the womb provides, and though the quantity of growth is a useful marker for the risk of disease, the determining factor is the **quality*** of growth.

Dr. Barker, in England in the 1980’s, found that infants carried to term with a birth weight of 8.5 to 9.5 pounds had a 45% lower risk of heart disease than infants carried to term weighing less than 5.5 pounds; they had a similarly lower risk of stroke, a nearly 70% lower risk of insulin resistance, and a slightly lower blood pressure in the seventh decade of life.

Data from the Dutch famine during WWII suggests specific types of diseases associated with specific windows of development during pregnancy. Women who were exposed to the famine during the first trimester gave birth to offspring with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease; women exposed during their second trimester gave birth to offspring with and increased risk of kidney disease; women exposed during their third trimester gave birth to offspring with an increased risk of insulin disorders.

Developmental origins theorists have offered several explanations for these associations: poor nutrition could alter the development of the pancreas, which secretes insulin, and the liver, which secrets cholesterol and blood clotting proteins; muscle tissue could program itself for insulin resistance in order to spare glucose and amino acids for the brain when the supply of these materials is limited; over growth of the left ventricle of the heart -which itself is independently associated with cardiovascular disease- could be a response to the need to supply a greater volume of blood to the brain at the expense of other tissues.

Again, all these studies concern human development but I have to wonder if commercial cattle breeders who focus on low birth weights for servicing their heifers, are building into their offspring the same kinds of diseases described in this Developmental Origins theory.

Couple that with what has been called “The Blood of Previous Impregnations” theory and we may have a further explanation for the train wreck that is our modern cattle industry. It all may grow out of the haste—or the impatience—to “breed them early, grow them fast and slaughter them quick” school preached by latter day “experts”.