With cold weather looming, calves energy requirements will be increasing greatly in the coming weeks. Calf starter consumption plays an important role in providing your calves with the energy they need, when they need it most.
“To keep calves growing all year long, regardless of the temperature outside, it is important that calf feeders pay attention to the details and closely monitor their feeding practices,” says Christie Underwood, a calf and heifer specialist with Purina Animal Nutrition in the southwest.
Underwood offers some simple tips to help calf feeders make sure that the details of feeding calves don’t fall through the cracks.
Know how much calf starter is actually needed
Measuring calf starter is the best way to ensure that the correct amount is being fed. Calf managers should provide employees with guidelines on how much calf starter is appropriate for a given age. “A simple trick that I’ve used on-farm is marking a feed scoop or other sanitized container with the desired amount,” says Underwood.
Training employees how to read buckets is another critical step in maintaining adequate feed intake. Underwood reminds employees to provide just enough calf starter so that there are no empty buckets prior to the next feeding. “It’s a balancing act between providing the right amount of calf starter and not providing too much,” says Underwood. “As calf feeders develop an eye for how much calf starter is enough and how much is too much, they will be able to help save your operation from costs associated with wasted feed.”
Paying close attention to how much calves are eating allows calf feeders to notice when a calf’s intake is off. This allows for more immediate action to be taken if the calf is sick, notes Underwood.
Calf feeding needs are not universal across all operations. Breed, weather and season, and the amount of milk or milk replacer fed can all affect the amount of calf starter needed to achieve optimal growth. As a result it is important that calf feeders learn and apply what works best on each operation, says Underwood.
Freshness is a must
Simply topping off calf starter buckets without routinely discarding leftover feed is a practice Underwood strongly discourages, as this may lead to moldy feed on the bottom of buckets. Mold can result from moisture in the air, precipitation or even the calf’s muzzle.
If mold is present, calf starter consumption may be decreased and may even result in digestive upsets. “Adding more calf starter on top of already wet or moldy feed can negatively affect calf health,” stresses Underwood.
Don’t forget about water
Water plays an important role in calf starter consumption. When discussing the importance of water consumption to calf feeders, Underwood uses the analogy of eating a peanut butter sandwich without a beverage. If calves don’t have enough water to help them consume calf starter, this may hinder their appetite. “Keeping fresh water in front of calves at all times is essential to achieve optimal calf starter intake,” she says.
Calf feeders should be aware that as calves get older, water consumption increases. Lack of adequate water for older calves may lead to slug feeding of grain and subsequent digestive issues. When a calf does not have water or feed, and suddenly is offered either there may be a chance for the calf to consume a large amount of grain at once which may lead to digestive bloat. Free-choice starter and water availability can help minimize the risk of digestive upsets in calves, Underwood notes.
It is no secret that calves are amongst the choosiest eaters on most dairies and they thrive on consistent routines. To keep calves growing and developing to become profitable members of the lactating herd, consider routinely evaluating the operation’s feeding practices and make sure that all employees are on the same page.