Encouraging Early Weaning

Water is an essential nutrient which is often over looked as a vital component of calf rearing. It accounts for three quarters of the young animal’s bodyweight so it is essential to ensure that a young animal has an adequate water supply at their disposal.

The calf requires sufficient water to replace what is being lost or used, such as the transportation of nutrients, excreting of urine and faeces, lubrication of joints and eyes, the exchange of gases in the lungs, and most important of all, the regulation of body temperature. Water intake is likely to increase by as much as 33% when the temperature increases. Water should be offered from 1-2 days of age, and the calf is likely to consume approx 1 Litre of water per day.

When a calf drinks milk it is directed into the abomasum, which is the calf’s predominant stomach during its early life. However, when calves drink water it is directed into the rumen and helps the fermentation of calf starter. Calves that are offered water consume more starter feed which increases growth rate. As calves grow, their demand for water increases considerably, and at 8 weeks old they could be drinking over 12 litres daily.

Although we are not able to see inside the calf to see how the rumen is developing, it is crucial we do everything possible to promote rumen development to enable the young cow to fulfil her genetic potential.

Calf starter intakes can be significantly limited if no water is available. The water stimulates the rumen microbes and promotes rumen development as well as fermentation resulting in increased energy for maintenance and growth. This results in improved performance, health, and a more profitable animal.

In practice, make sure that calves have a water bucket or self-filling bowl, good quality, palatable starter feed such as Wynnstay Start ‘n’ Wean and are able to suck milk, preferably from a teat. As a ‘rule of thumb’ calves need 5 litres of water for every 1kg of cake consumed.

Offering calves water from the first few days of life it is one of the most cost effective strategies to improve rumen development. It is also an efficient way of increasing feed conversion rates and will enable calves to have a smooth and efficient weaning phase.

If you would like more information on calf nutrition and how it could work for your herd please contact one of our Wynnstay Calf Specialists.

Sandy Wilson
Calf Specialist
Follow Sandy on Twitter @petticoatcalves or find her on LinkedIn

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