Raising a healthy calf that is both productive and profitable for your operation doesn't take an accelerated calf program. Instead, Dr. Robert Corbett, DVM, PAS, with Dairy Health Consultation, stresses that what is defined as an accelerated program should be considered the industry norm. Proper nutrition and astute management can ensure your calves reach their genetic potential.

Dr. Corbett says the goal of a heifer nutrition program should be to allow each calf the opportunity to maximize nutrient intake of protein and energy in the appropriate ratio in order to optimize its growth rate, health and future productivity without overconditioning. In the DCHA Webinar on Sept. 14, he recommended the following practices to meet this goal:

  • Feed colostrum correctly and promptly. Calves need 1 gallon of colostrum from their mother immediately after birth, followed by 2 quarts within 6-8 hours.
  • Feed pasteurized whole milk or milk replacer to meet maintenance plus growth requirements, taking into consideration environmental conditions and temperature. During the first week of life, calves should receive about 12.5% of their body weight per day in milk or milk replacer, increasing to 20% the second week of life. The solids content of milk replacer should be at least 15% from the first day it is fed until weaning. Milk replacer powder can be added to pasteurized whole milk to meet this requirement. Ideally, milk replacers should contain 27-28% protein and 15-20% fat. 
  • Formulate a high-protein diet. Calves should be fed a high-protein ration that delivers the appropriate amino acid balance for maximum rumen microbial growth and feed efficiency. Diets low in protein can reduce growth rates and increase incidence of disease.
  • Wean based on dry matter intake, not age. A calf is ready to wean only when it consumes 2 lbs. of a high-quality calf starter (23-25% protein on an as-fed basis) a day for three consecutive days. If a lower-protein calf starter is being used (17-18% protein as fed) calves will have to consume more per day in order to satisfy their nutritional requirements, approximately 4 lbs. per day prior to weaning. Weaning a calf based on dry matter intake rather than age ensures uniform size in the first group pens postweaning.
  • Transition from a starter to grower. Once calves are consuming 6 to 8 lbs./day of calf starter for seven days, move calves to a small group pen and start them on a grower ration with 20% high-quality hay mixed, if possible, in a TMR (total mixed ration), with 80% concentrate.
  • Pay attention to older heifer nutrition. Formulating rations with the proper protein to energy ratio is crucial. The potential gain from metabolizable protein should always be higher than the potential gain from metabolizable energy. High-quality forages and a balanced mineral-vitamin package should be used in ration formulation. When heifers become pregnant, the amount of metabolizable energy should be decreased to avoid over-conditioning and minimize calving difficulty.
  • Work with your nutritionist. Your nutritionist can help formulate rations that deliver the nutrient levels needed at each stage of a replacement heifer's life to minimize disease and allow the animal to grow and perform to its genetic potential. 

To hear more from Dr. Corbett's DCHA Webinar, "Achieving Maximum Growth Potential of Replacement Heifers through Management and Nutrition," click here.

For more production and performance standards, see DCHA's Gold Standards I for Holstein calves, from birth to six months and Gold Standards II for Holstein calves, from six months of age to freshening.

DCHA will present Gold Standards III, animal welfare standards for rearing dairy calves and heifers, from birth to freshening, across the United States, on Thursday, Sept. 22 at the American Association of Bovine Practitioners Conference in St. LouisMo.

Source: Dairy Calf & Heifer Association