The calves fed three times per day also calved 16 days earlier and averaged 1,136 pounds more milk during their first lactation. They also had better starter intake, growth and feed efficiency during the pre-weaning phase — what you would expect of calves fed to a higher plane of nutrition. (Please see “Study results at a glance” below.)
If 3X is good, is 4X better?
If you don’t use an automatic calf feeder to deliver milk replacer, offering more than three hand-fed meals is probably not worth it.
“Three (meals) is probably going to give you the best response for your dollar, in terms of the additional labor,” says Tom Earleywine, director of nutritional services at Land O’Lakes Animal Milk Products Company.
Sockett agrees, adding that four hand feedings per day may benefit calves, but you probably won’t get the “wow” factor that you see when feeding frequency increases from two to three meals per day.
“Obviously this work needs to be repeated to make sure it’s a repeatable finding,” Sockett adds.
However, the evidence so far presents a strong case for feeding calves multiple meals.
And many already are. It’s estimated that roughly 8 percent to 14 percent of dairy farms feed calves three times a day, and that’s not just in winter, Earleywine says.
Further study results might prompt more calf feeders to adopt a three-a-day approach. If it helps more animals become productive members of the herd, why not?
STUDY RESULTS AT A GLANCE
This table provides a snapshot of the performance of calves fed a 28:20 milk replacer three times a day vs. twice a day.
BUT I’LL MISS JAY LENO
A 3X calf feeding program does not require you to miss your favorite late-night television program.
“When you talk about feeding (calves) three times a day, everybody thinks of going outside and having to do a midnight feeding,” says Don Sockett, veterinary microbiologist at the Wisconsin Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory in Madison, Wis. “That wasn’t done in this study.”
The study Sockett is referring to looked at the impact of feeding calves a 28:20 milk replacer three times a day instead of two. Implementing such a strategy is relatively straight-forward, and there doesn’t need to be an eighthour split between feedings.
“All the calves were fed at 8:00 in the morning and at 9 o’clock at night, and the calves that were fed three times a day got a meal at 2:30 in the afternoon,” Sockett says.
Calves were fed this way for the first six weeks of the study, and then from week six to week seven, or 43 to 49 days of age, they were all fed once a day in preparation for weaning.
The key to success, Sockett says, is getting the people who feed the calves on board.
“If there’s a will to do it, the calf feeder will figure out a way to do it,” he says.
To find out how they made it work in this particular study, go to dairyherd.com and type “Tips for feeding calves 3X” into the “Search” box.