The idea for a calf feeding study came to Don Sockett during conversations he had with co-workers, who also happened to be moms, at the Wisconsin Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory. In fact, you might say he had one of those “Mother knows best” moments.
“My passion is dairy calves, and I spend a lot of my time dealing with health issues related to dairy calves,” says Sockett, a veterinary microbiologist at the diagnostic lab in Madison, Wis. “At work I always ask people what they think.”
And boy did he get an earful during conversations about feeding calves twice a day. In fact, the moms were quick to chastise him with the comment, “Every mother knows a baby needs to be fed more than twice a day.”
Those moms may have been on to something. New research shows that when calves on a higher plane of nutrition were fed three times a day instead of two, they had a much better chance of entering lactation than calves fed twice a day. Here’s a closer look at what the research found.
A powerful response
During the study, all the calves were fed the same amount of a 28-percent protein, 20-percent fat milk replacer daily. The only difference was the 3X calves’ portion was split into three meals, with the extra feeding taking place at 2:30 in the afternoon. Otherwise, both groups were fed at 8 a.m. and 9 p.m. It’s important to note that all the calves received the same amount (700 grams) of a commercially available colostrum replacement product within four hours of birth. The product supplied 150 grams of immunoglobulin G and there was no difference between the two groups for failure of passive transfer.
Study results show the additional milk replacer feeding yielded some pretty powerful results — 97.1 percent (or 34 out of 35 calves) went on to become lactating animals in the herd.
“That’s unheard of in the Holstein industry, absolutely unheard of,” Sockett says. “The national average is about 80 percent.”
And that’s exactly how the calves fed twice daily performed. Eighty percent, or 28 out of 35 of the calves, entered the milking herd. That means, for every six calves fed three times a day, one additional heifer entered lactation.
“When you look at the reasons why calves in the twice-a-day feeding didn’t make it as mothers lactating in the herd, it wasn’t any one particular thing,” Sockett says.
Mostly, it was common reasons — like death prior to weaning, the heifer didn’t get bred or she aborted — that expedited her departure from the herd.