Seasonal feeding tips for healthy, hardy calves

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Marcie Feine of Feine-Est Heifers, Rushford, Minn., custom raises 750 wet calves per year. About three years ago, Heeg Brothers Dairy participated in a seasonal feeding trial, and they have been feeding calves that way ever since. During the trial, one group was fed a standard “full potential” or “accelerated growth” formulation and the other was fed the new warm weather formulation. Heeg said growth rates in both groups were similar, with calves gaining 1.6 to 1.8 pounds per day, “but we did notice more aggressiveness toward the grain in calves on the (warm weather formulation).”

He said this response was probably due to the lower fat content in the seasonal formulation, which seems to make it easier to get calves onto starter in the summer.

The seasonal program also has helped the farm shave a week off its weaning age. “Instead of weaning them at 8 weeks, we can wean them at 7 weeks, and we have the same weight (at weaning) as we had before,” Heeg said.

Age at first breeding is lower, too. The 450 calves raised on the 1,000-cow dairy are now averaging 13 to 13.5 months at breeding age.

“Heifers are calving in at 22 months of age instead of 24, and they are about the same size,” Heeg said.

Marcie Feine of Feine-Est Heifers concurs that calves flourish on the seasonal feeding program she follows. Feine custom raises 750 wet calves per year in Rushford, Minn. 

Like Heeg, Feine is weaning calves a week earlier, at 49 days of age. Breeding and calving data for the calves fed seasonal formulations is yet to come, but currently heifers are ready for breeding at 12 to 13 months of age and calving at 22 to 23 months.

“I expect to see a bigger heifer and hope we will be able to bring those ages at first breeding and calving down a bit lower,” she said.

Both Feine and Heeg like the addition of a feed-through fly control in the warm weather formulation and say that transitioning between formulations is not a problem.

Seasonal Feeding Tips

Transitioning between seasonal milk replacers is relatively simple to implement.

At Heeg Brothers Dairy in Colby, Wis., they simply switch between formulations, without any adverse consequences.

“We switch the calves to the (warm weather formulation) about 4 weeks prior to the fly season because it has fly control in it,” said owner Jay Heeg. They switch to the cold weather formulation about 3 to 4 weeks after the first hard frost.

Others, like Marcie Feine of Rushford, Minn., make a more gradual transition. “I blend both powders 50:50, weighing the powders for accuracy,” she said. “I feed that blend for 3 or 4 days, and then I go right to 100 percent of the new formula.” She seldom sees any scours problems.

Here are some other key points to remember when transitioning between seasonal milk replacers:

• Use a thermometer to make sure water temperature is at the right temperature (110 - 120 degrees F) for proper mixing.

• Weigh the powders for accuracy, as bulk densities differ between the formulations.

• Be consistent with water temperature, mixing, solids concentration, etc.

• Be diligent with hygiene at all times. Keep bottles, nipples, buckets and utensils clean and disinfected between feedings.



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