Myth 1 – “Calves don’t need water until weaning”
Calves should have access to clean, fresh, water from birth – not only is it a legal requirement, but it drastically increases dry feed intake and is imperative to rumen development. The myth that water makes calves scour is one we do hear from time to time. Water does not make calves scour, calves need water to balance their body systems flush out toxins and help secrete excess minerals.
When calves are fed correctly, water and milk should never mix – they enter different stomachs, with milk going to the abomasum and water into the rumen along with the dry feed. Mixing can occur when calves are being bucket fed and dive straight into a bucket of water after their milk. This happens as calves tend to gulp milk from a bucket and still have the desire to drink, under these circumstances it is possible to remove the water whilst the calf is drinking the milk. The buckets must be cleaned and returned after 15 minutes. Ideally, we should be making the move away from bucket feeding and transitioning to teat feeding, as mother nature intended.
By providing calves with water from day one they will have better developed rumens and transition through weaning much more smoothly. Remember, calves need four litres of water for every kilo of dry feed consumed – that’s eight litres minimum at weaning!
Myth 2 – “Calves don’t need forage”
It is an indisputable fact that calves need forage available from birth – and bedding doesn’t count! Fresh, clean forage should be offered at all times. There is also some discussion surrounding feeding hay or straw, both are fine but must be managed carefully. The reasons that many have previously moved away from hay is because there can be a great variance in quality and calves often ate large amounts, leading to ‘potbellies’. If the calf is going to eat either hay or straw, it is of greater benefit for it to have a limited amount of good quality forage than straw. When feeding hay, it should always be analysed and balanced to the concentrate accordingly. Either way, calves seek forage and so it should be offered separately to their bedding in lowered troughs or buckets. If there is any hesitation about the quality of hay available, then straw is the safer option. Straw should ideally be chopped and offered ad-lib in raised troughs away from their bedding.
Calves need four litres of water for every kilo of dry feed consumed – that’s eight litres minimum at weaning!
Myth 3 – “Calves always lose weight after weaning”
The main reason that calves lose weight post weaning is because their concentrate intake is not yet sufficient, and their weaning hasn’t been managed properly. To sustain the growth rates achieved pre-weaning, the calves must be consuming at least twice the total amount of milk powder being fed, i.e. if a calf is receiving 1kg/day of milk powder it should be consuming at least 2kg of concentrate at weaning for three consecutive days. When calves are on a higher plane of milk nutrition it is important that weaning is managed more carefully. In this case, look at weaning over a three week period instead of the conventional one to two weeks.
To sustain the growth rates achieved preweaning, the calves must be consuming at least twice the total amount of milk powder being fed.
Myth 4 – “Calves need to be kept individually until weaning”
Calves actually perform better in pairs or in group housing where the environment is more social. Although housing calves individually has some benefits, this method is set to become outdated with today’s more modern approach to feeding calves, however, individual housing is still seen as beneficial during the first week of life whilst the calf is receiving colostrum and transition feeds.
Once past the first week, there is undeniable research showing group housed calves to grow better, have increased cognitive development and more developed rumens. This is largely due to the fact that calves housed in groups consume more starter feed than their isolated counter parts. Group housing calves is also an excellent way of preparing them for entering the herd. De Paula Vieira et al., 2010 found that calves in social housing during the milk feeding phase consumed over 40g more starter per day than individually housed calves and were quicker to find and consume starter post weaning in a new environment.
De Paula Vieira et al., 2010. J.Dairy Sci.93:3079-3085
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