Calf nutrient needs do fluctuate with weather conditions, so adjust your feeding regimen accordingly. (See chart on page 28.)
Remember, it’s not the volume fed, it is the total nutrient package delivered to the calf.
In addition to fewer sick calves and less death loss, feeding calves a higher plane of nutrition from the start also benefits milk production. In separate studies conducted at Michigan State University and at Cornell University, the researchers measured the mammary DNA content of calves fed to double their weight in the first 56 days of life against calves fed in a traditional manner. The calves fed the higher plane of nutrition had 32 percent to 47 percent more mammary DNA content. And this change in mammary development occurs at no other point of development. “It appears if you don’t get the gain prior to weaning, it cannot be recovered later during development,” explains Van Amburgh.
And these heifers go on to produce more milk. In four studies where neonate calves were allowed to consume at least 50 percent more nutrients than the standard feeding rate, all showed an increase in milk production compared to herdmates. The average milk production response of the four studies was 1,700 pounds more milk in the first lactation. The range was 1,000 pounds to 3,000 pounds more milk. (Please see “The milk production difference,” above.)
At the Cornell Teaching and Research Center, newborn calves have been fed with the goal of doubling their birth weight in 56 days for the past six years. They continue on with diets formulated for maintenance plus specific growth targets. Heifers calve, on average, at 22 months of age, weighing 1,300 pounds, and produce an average of 30,000 pounds of milk in the first lactation, says Walt Jones, superintendent and herdsman at the 543-cow dairy.
“We expect our heifers to average 90 pounds of milk per day by 60 days in milk,” he says. And, they consistently achieve this goal. In fact, the last group of 10 heifers to calve was producing 95.6 pounds of milk at 100 days in milk.
Because of the success of its heifer-raising program, the Cornell dairy has grown to capacity and now culls 42 percent of the lactating herd (cows with two or more lactations) and replaces them with more productive first-calf heifers. (Cull rate of first-lactation animals is 12 percent.) The dairy’s rolling herd average now is above 27,000 pounds. While this is a research facility, says Jones, there isn’t anything done here that another dairy producer couldn’t do at his operation.