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To quantitatively analyse the faecal bacterial communities of Holstein calves and track their succession up to 12 weeks of age.Faecal samples obtained from four female Holstein calves were analysed by the RNA-based, sequence-specific rRNA cleavage method. Twelve scissor probes covering major rumen bacterial groups were used, detecting c. 60–90% of the total 16S rRNAs. At 1 week of age, 16S rRNAs from members of the Bacteroides-Prevotella group (40·0% of the total 16S rRNAs), Faecalibacterium (21·7%), the Clostridium coccoides–Eubacterium rectale group (16·7%) and the Atopobium cluster (10·9%) were detected at high levels. Throughout the 12-week period, rRNAs of the Bacteroides-Prevotella and the Cl. coccoides-Eu. rectale groups constituted the major fraction of microbiota (c. 50–70% of the total). The relative abundances of the Atopobium cluster, Faecalibacterium, and some probiotic bacteria (such as those of the genera Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium) decreased as the animal aged. Instead, an uncultivated rumen bacterial group, as well as Ruminococcus flavefaciens and Fibrobacter emerged at the detectable levels (1–2%) in the faeces sampled at a postweaning age. In addition, certain bacterial groups that were not covered by the probe suite increased as the animals aged.Young calves undergo dynamic changes in their intestinal bacterial community during the first 12 weeks of life. As young ruminants undergo metabolic and physiological development in their digestive tracts in the transition from a monogastric to a ruminant animal at an early age, the intestinal bacterial community may reflect such development.The succession of the bacterial communities in the faeces of calves was quantitatively monitored in the present study for the first time. The approach used here was demonstrated to be a useful means for determining the populations of predominant faecal bacterial groups in a variety of calf experiments in response to diet, stress and disease.