Getting newborn calves off to a strong start — on an accelerated plane of nutrition — is key to David Foster, Foster Dairy, in southeastern Kansas. Every newborn calf is offered 1 gallon of colostrum from the mother at first feeding, and vaccinated with Calf-Guard. Calves are offered another full gallon of milk at the second feeding. Although many may consume one-half to three-quarters of a gallon, about half the calves will consumer nearly the full gallon, Foster says. From the third feeding and on up to six weeks, calves receive two gallons of milk per day over two feedings, morning and night. At 6 weeks, they are tapered back to 1 gallon in the morning, and one-half gallon at night. 

The Fosters feed milk from treated cows, but also feel there is benefit to pull milk from cows that are typically higher in somatic cell counts. That not only provides milk for calves, but also reduces overall tank SCC levels to maintain quality premiums (they’ve been running under 100,00 cells/mL recently). Since making the switch to these protocols, Foster identifies several benefits: 

  • Herd death loss has decreased from newborn to milking — in the 0-2% range overall. The heifers are healthier, with fewer requiring disease treatments, he notes.
  • Heifer calf weights have increased, reaching 200 lbs. by weaning; 380-400 lbs. by 4 months of age; and 800-850 lbs. at 13-14 month of age. At those weights, heifers can be bred at an earlier age. And, the size difference between first-calf heifers and second-lactation cows has diminished.
  • First-lactation milk production is up. The feeding program does have some drawbacks, Foster said. Calves are satisfied from 2 gallons of milk, and don’t consume much starter pellet grain until after 4 weeks of age. It takes a bit more time to feed, since calves get two bottles (one gallon), and it also takes more patience in feeding younger calves, because they don’t run to the calf feeder hungry. It also takes more milk. During a “light” calving season, it takes 36 bottles to feed 18 calves. During heavier calving seasons — when there up to 40 calves — 80 bottles of milk per feeding equals 80 gallons of milk per day.

“We believe there is more benefit to the added growth and nutrition to the calves than the extra pounds in the tank,” Foster said. 

He describes one necessity to implement this program: “It takes an employee with pride in doing the job, someone who has the patience, cares enough to be observant, and takes the time to provide the utmost care for this to work well. Fortunately, for Foster Dairy, our employee exceeds in all areas.”

For more on making critical management and capital investment decisions, see “From Our Board Room” in the March 2014 issue of Dairy Herd Management.