Heifers that do not adapt and grow well after weaning is a common complaint heard by Donna Amaral-Phillips, Extension professor of animal science at the University of Kentucky.
Amaral-Phillips says the post-weaning slump occurs because of the stress calves experience as they make the transition away from a milk-based diet; enter a new housing situation; and often are commingled with a larger group of animals.
Her advice to ease the stress of weaning includes:
(1) Make management changes slowly – Try to make only one change at a time before introducing another change. Ease calves off of milk with once-a-day feedings for a few days. Keep calves on the same starter grain mixture they were eating before weaning for at least another week post-weaning.
(2) Feed the best-quality forages and the proper amount and type of grain mix – Holstein heifers should be consuming 4 to 5 pounds of starter grain before forage is introduced; Jerseys 3 to 4 pounds. Good quality is important because of limited intake.
Adequate energy in the ration is important for weight gain, and protein is necessary for stature growth. Do not feed a diet based solely on silage or pasture until at least 6 months of age.
(3) House in small groups – Weaning calves into groups of six or fewer animals will help alleviate bunk-space competition and promote feed intake.
(4) Provide adequate bunk space in a clean environment – Allow 12 to 18 inches of head space per animal for just-weaned calves. Height of the bunk should provide easy access to feed. Keep feeding areas clean and avoid mud accumulation that could cause calves to expend extra energy getting to the bunk.
(5) Take disease-prevention measures – Implement a veterinarian-prescribed vaccination protocol, and provide adequate ventilation. Be sure to continue coccidiosis prevention with Bovatec® or Rumensin®. If Deccox® is fed in the calf starter grain and is not followed up with Bovatec® or Rumensin®, coccidia can complete their life cycle and cause clinical disease. These additives also promote feed efficiency and weight gain.
Read more of Amaral-Phillips’ weaning advice at: http://afsdairy.ca.uky.edu/extension/nutrition/calves/heifers/calfgrowthafterweaning.