Early calf development depends on proper nutrition

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Do calves succeed because of their genetic potential or excellent management? It’s both, of course.

But the best operations apply outstanding management to take advantage of genetic potential—and that means stepping up calf and heifer nutrition to develop superior dairy replacements.

Begin Early

That focus begins immediately after birth by following proper colostrum management and delivering more milk volume and total milk solids than were traditionally fed years ago.

Data generated over the last 10 years has documented positive responses in the productivity of adult cattle when they were fed greater nutrient intake as calves from milk or milk replacer prior to weaning.1

According to information presented at the 2013 4-State Dairy Nutrition Management Conference, a number of studies1 directly and indirectly show that calves fed more nutrients up to eight weeks of age showed increased milk production during the first lactation—as much as 1,000 to 3,000 additional pounds compared to calves fed a more restricted diet during the same period.

Furthermore, a recent analysis1 by researchers at Cornell University on the impact of average daily gain (ADG) on first lactation milk found that for every kilogram (or 2.2 pounds) of preweaning ADG, calves produced 1,551 more pounds milk during their first lactation.

Deliver High-Quality Feeds

To keep calves headed in the right direction, make sure they also receive a high-quality, highly digestible starter ration that features a high-quality protein source. Keep in mind that all calf starter grain mixes are not formulated equally.

Crude protein is not as important as metabolizable protein (the protein supply actually available to the animal, i.e., digested in the small intestine) and energy. Also consider that some ingredients are more palatable than others. That means that palatability and digestibility of the properly formulated calf starter, as well as the development of the calf’s digestive system, are keys to a successful transition to plant protein and energy.

Productivity Effects

Paying particular attention to preweaning nutrition has long-term impacts. When researchers at Cornell evaluated data for animals that had completed a third lactation, they found a lifetime milk effect of preweaning ADG of more than 2,279 pounds of milk, depending on preweaning growth rates. This suggests that colostrum status and nutrient intake and/or preweaning growth have a greater effect on lifetime milk yield and account for more variation in milk yield of the calf than genetic selection.1

Click here to get more advice on proper calf and heifer nutrition from Arm & Hammer Animal Nutrition.

1 Van Amburgh ME, Soberon F. Early Life Nutrition and Management and the Impact on Lifetime Productivity of Calves, in Proceedings. Four-State Dairy Nutrition & Management Conference 2013; 36-43.



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