Feeding baby mammals is a precise and critical process.
The wrong food at the wrong time can result in significant health, digestive and growth problems. The calf is no different and until the rumen is functioning properly (35 – 60 days), milk is the food needed to sustain the calf.
In addition, we need to consider the frequency of feeding, the suckled calf may feed 6-10 times per day and we should also try to feed our calves little and often. A recent paper from Dr Don Socket from Madison highlighted the need for multiple milk feeds “I expect 10 years from now, the discussion won’t be if we should feed calves three times a day but if there is a benefit feeding three times a day versus more times,” he predicted. “That’s where the research is going.”
The LifeStart programme is designed to activate metabolic pathways in the young calf which will help to improve both performance and efficiency during the animals’ productive life.
This activation process requires a programme which provides an enhanced level of digestible nutrition in a safe form. LifeStart formulations have exceptionally high levels of dairy ingredients but products with lower digestibility such as soya are not used. Fats and oils are a key source of energy for the calf and the wide range of fats and oils used in LifeStart formulations are in the form of minute globules (similar to those in cows’ milk) to ensure optimum digestion and absorption.
LifeStart compliant milk replacers have to exceed an international set of standards to ensure that enhanced levels of feeding do not lead to gut disturbances or other health related issues while at the same time being formulated to support rapid, early growth and development.
These standards include factors which not only consider the growth and development of the calf but also the maturation of the rumen and the gut, both critical aspects in the development of an efficient and productive dairy cow.
The LifeStart programme is a practical and functional system based on best management practices. It is essential that all calves receive high antibody colostrum
(typically 10- 15% of body weight) within the first 4-6 hours of life. Use of a colostrometer is recommended. Feed colostrum for 3-4 days before the introduction to milk replacer.
Milk replacer should be mixed at 150g/litre and the calves started at 4 litres/day, this volume is slowly increased so that by day 20 the calf is receiving 6 litres/day. At 6 weeks start to reverse the process by slowly reducing the volume fed so that the calf is fully weaned by 8 – 10 weeks when they should be eating at least 2 kg of calf starter pellets.
Weight for age targets are important management tools in the growth and development of heifers to calve at the optimum 23-24 months of age. A Holstein heifer should be 120 kg at 12 weeks of age and we should aim for a bulling weight of 400 kg at 14 months.