Dairy farmers today are entering a new era of calf nutrition. The research and knowledge base behind feeding calves and what the long-term impact calf nutrition has on milk production has grown exponentially in recent years.
Historically calves have been fed a 20 percent protein, 20 percent fat milk replacer twice a day for approximately 60 days, the calf is weaned and moved to calf starter and then moved to a forage diet. All of these steps have been done as quickly as possible with the thought that as soon as the calf is on hay, heifer raising costs are reduced.
But new research and field data tells us this feeding methodology does not allow calves to reach their full potential. “Because we’ve been going it the old way for so long, it is going to be a huge paradigm shift for the dairy industry to feed calves in a new manner,” says Gary Geisler, calf and heifer specialist with Land O’Lakes Purina Feed.
Investing in the early nutrition status of the calf or full-potential feeding, both in milk replacer and calf starter, appears to have significant long-term impact on lactation performance. Achieving more milk and optimized overall health of the animal could have significant impact on your bottom-line.
Research by Dr. Mike Van Amburgh at Cornell University shows that growth rate and nutrient intake prior to weaning has a more direct and significant effect on milk yield than genetic selection for production. His work indicates that when a calf is fed a nutrient supply above maintenance, the calf will be set up to become a better lifetime milk producer. His research also shows that a 1 pound increase in average daily gain prior to weaning may increase first lactation milk yield as much as 700 pounds. Therefore, it is critical to maintain the calf on the same starter fed along with the milk replacer during this period to optimize calf performance.
Weaning is the next piece of the puzzle for full-potential feeding. “The weaning stage is often an overlooked area as dairymen typically want to move their calves straight to a forage diet and then essentially forget about the heifers until they are ready to be bred,” Geisler explains.
Unfortunately it’s not uncommon for heifers to suffer a major growth slump during the weaning period or shortly thereafter. Researchers at Land O’Lakes Purina Feed and The Ohio State University have discovered that changing what calves are fed during this time period can help to skip the growth slump. And, this stage can have a significant impact on the future of your calves.
Furthermore, this time period is all about developing rumen papillae and preparing the calf’s rumen to digest the high forage diets that she will consume during the lactating period of her life. If the rumen is not prepared right and rumen papillae are not grown properly the calf will not be able to obtain the nutrition that she needs to grow and develop. Later in life the amount of nutrition the cow will be able to absorb to maintain a calf and produce milk to her full potential will also likely be diminished.