Rethink feeding calves on a restricted diet and concentrate on the benefits of feeding a high plane of nutrition.
It has become evident that in recent years nutrition and management in the first weeks of life can have long term effect on production. Restricted feeding is considered to be short term cost effective, encourages earlier weaning and produces a reasonably productive cow. However, even if we forget about the underlying long term effects that comes with it, in the short term, restricted feeding faces us with higher mortality and morbidity rates.
An elevated milk feeding programme reduces, mortality, morbidity, increased average daily gain (ADG), improves rumen development and increased milk yield in the first lactation. Feeding an elevated plane of nutrition and weaning later, promotes long term growth and productivity (Soberon F 2018). An elevated milk programme is beneficial to the calf’s health in terms of organ development. (Drackley 2015)
(Trouw Nutrition, N.D)
Calves fed a higher plane of nutrition had better ADG, were healthier and reached their genetic potential, whilst having decreased disease status, than those fed on a restricted diet.
“Feed conversion efficiency is much higher during the first weeks of life than at any other point in the growth cycle. So, every kilo you feed in the first two months of life will cost you less than doing so later in the cow’s life.” (Batch A 2018) I would say it’s important to set high targets of ADG in the first eight weeks to ensure early growth for longer lifetime performance.
“The calf has a requirement for maintenance and once maintenance requirements are met, growth can be achieved if enough nutrients and the proper balance of nutrients are provided to the calf.” (Soberon. F 2018) This indicates that underfeeding will not benefit your ADG, it costs you more in the long run with heifers calving down later, and lower yields. feeding your calves on a restricted feed plan could mean you’re only covering the calf’s maintenance requirements, resulting poor growth rates and organ development.
Worrying about feeding too much because of scouring?
A common belief for farmers is that feeding higher amounts of milk can cause scouring. It is true that calves’ faeces may be looser but that is evident due to the amount of liquid being consumed, loose faeces do not count as scours! Data has shown that calves fed a higher plane of nutrition did have higher faecal score than those on a restricted diet, but the faecal dry matter was the same (Trouw Nutrition, 2017). Faecal consistency doesn’t contain as much liquid when dry feed is consumed, due to the fibre content in the feed. Calves fed more of a high-quality milk replacer will not cause scour, although calves fed a poor-quality milk replacer, are more likely to experience scours (Bagley, 1997).
Unlocking genetic potential
How can a pre-weaning diet influence life time performance? Metabolic programming involves training the animals genes to respond in a specific way to maximise traits such as growth, milk yield and composition. Spending time and money choosing a bull to suit your system is exciting, but for that calf to have high production levels and continue to do so we can’t forget to feed it correctly. Farmers think nothing of spending £££’s on AI straws, but what are the benefits if you’re not feeding your calves enough?
For the future milk production of our cows it’s important to know that you must unlock the genetic potential as early on as possible. A higher plane of nutrition will unlock genetic potential and prepare the calf for metabolic programming. Young growth it crucial if you want to achieve full performance. During those first weeks this is when metabolic programming happens. The first weeks of the calf’s life can interpret whether that cow will be productive or not (Kaske 2018). The intensity of feeding in the first eight weeks of life can reassure you to having a healthier and more productive cow.
How to feed your calves on an elevated feeding plan:
- Increase calf milk replacer (CMR) from 500g – 900g a day
- Introduce dry feed within the first week
- 3L per feed (Teat/Bucket feeding)
For more information on feed plans contact your local Wynnstay Calf Specialist.
Calf & Youngstock Specialist, South Wales