Promote calf starter intake

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This Dairy Calf & Heifer Association (DCHA) Tip of the Week comes from a recent mini-seminar that featured DCHA senior advisor, John K. Bernard. During the discussion, Bernard, a professor in dairy nutrition at the University of Georgia, shared some insights on calf starter intake and growth standards for calves.


Holstein calf growth standards, according to DCHA Gold Standards I, indicate that newborn calves should double their birth weight by 60 days of age. The target growth rate standards for Holstein calves are:

  • 24 hours to 60 days of age: double birth weight
  • 61 to 120 days of age: 2.2 lbs. average daily gain
  • 121 to 180 days of age: 2.0 lbs. average daily gain

According to Bernard, in order to meet these growth goals, calf starter is required to supplement the energy and protein provided by milk replacer. Rumen development is dependent on calf starter consumption. It is important to note that as calf starter intake increases, more nutrients are available to support growth.

Bernard indicated that there are several factors that can affect starter intake:

  • Milk replacer feeding
  • Attention should be given to the amount fed and the fat content
  • Type and quality of starter
  • Textured versus pelleted 
  • Ingredient composition includes several factors including but not limited to those that are grain-based (corn or oats primarily): whole, cracked, rolled, or coarsely ground, a high-quality protein supplement (SBM), containing less than 9% molasses and containing less than 4% fat.

In DCHA's Gold Standards I Nutrition section, there are recommendations structuring your nutrition program to achieve health and growth standards; be sure to monitor performance regularly. Consult your veterinarian and nutritionist routinely. Additionally, clean water and starter grain should be offered to calves with continuous availability by 3 days of age, and refreshed or replenished daily.


Bernard also recommended the following as a guideline for Target Calf Starter Intake:

  • Days 1-14 - 0.12 lbs/d 
  • Days 15-21 - 0.25 lbs/d
  • Days 22-28 - 0.50 lbs/d
  • Days 29-35 - 1.00 lbs/d
  • Days 36-42 - 2.00 lbs/d
  • Days 43-60 - 4.45 lbs/d
  • Wean on the calendar (42 days of age) or when intake averages 2 lbs/d for 3 consecutive days.

For additional information on promoting calf starter intake, click here to review DCHA's Gold Standards I, sections III and V.  



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