New thinking on targets for calf nutrition
Latest advice suggests that dairy calves are not fed enough milk to maximise growth rates
Spring is almost upon us and attention is turning to the approaching calving season. Although this is an extremely busy time of year, it is well worth putting a big effort into rearing newborn calves to the best of your ability. After all, the heifer calves born today will be entering the herd as replacements in 2014.
Research has shown that if heifers are reared properly and achieve target weights at designated times during their first two years of life (ie, six months, breeding, pre-calving), they go on to be more productive and stay in the herd for a greater number of lactations. This article aims to try and make this year's calving season as successful as possible.
The benefits of feeding an appropriate amount of colostrum at the correct time are well known -- use the first milk from the cow and feed the calf three litres within the first two hours of life. However, feeding management after this first feed is not addressed as frequently.
Traditionally, dairy calves have been offered around 4-4.5 litres of milk a day, which is about 8-10pc of their bodyweight. This amount of milk will supply just enough energy to meet their maintenance requirements until they start to eat concentrates, therefore weight gains of only 0.2kg/day can be expected. Furthermore, it means that these calves do not have enough energy to fight disease or any other stressful situations that they may encounter.
If this feeding strategy is compared to a suckler calf, large differences are evident. Suckler calves have an ad-lib milk supply and can drink up to 20pc of their bodyweight each day. This can equate to milk intake of up to eight litres for a 40kg calf, resulting in weight gains of about 1kg/day being achievable.
Thus, it is clear that in order to ensure dairy calves are growing well, are strong and healthy and well able to fight any stressor that comes along, they should be fed 13-15pc of their birth weight in whole milk or high quality milk replacer. This level of feeding should support weight gains of 0.5-0.6kg/day.
The table outlines appropriate feeding levels for different breeds.