Want to increase your calves’ average daily gain by 61 percent? Offer them fresh, free-choice drinking water in a separate bucket from feed starting on the first day of life until they are moved to group pens, says Dave Beede, animal science professor at Michigan State University.

Research from the Ralston Purina Research Center has shown adding free-choice water raises starter intake by 46 percent, and that translated into an increase in average daily gain of 61 percent. This may be a challenge in cold environments, but it’s worth the effort. Just make sure to separate water and feed buckets to avoid cross-contamination. Also practice timely and proper sanitation of all buckets.