Researchers at the University of Minnesota recently completed a study comparing the outcomes of feeding young calves milk replacer (both conventional and accelerated diets) four times a day versus two.

Dr. Noah Litherland, leader of the research team, said they hypothesized that feeding the same amount of milk replacer – but in smaller meals offered more frequently – would stimulate starter grain intake and improve efficiency of growth and actual growth compared to twice-a-day feeding. 

The trial included 48 Holstein and Holstein-cross heifer and bull calves assigned to one of four treatment groups:

  • Standard, 20:20 milk replacer fed 2X at 1.5 percent of bodyweight
  • Standard, 20:20 milk replacer fed 4X at 1.5 percent of bodyweight
  • Modified 26:18 milk replacer fed 2X at 2.0 percent of bodyweight
  • Modified 26:18 milk replacer fed 2X at 4.0 percent of bodyweight

This schematic was followed from two to 42 days of life for all calves in the trial. Milk-replacer feeding rates were adjusted weekly to maintain 1.5 and 2.0 percent of bodyweight throughout the trial. All milk replacer was reconstituted to 15 percent solids. All animals were offered fresh water and an 18-percent crude protein starter free choice throughout the study period.

Calf body weight and body structure were measured weekly, and fecal scores and starter intake were measured daily. All calves were housed in individual hutches and bedded with straw. 

The researchers found that increasing feeding frequency in the calves on the 20:20 milk replacer increased starter intake, but had no effect on starter intake for the calves fed an accelerated ration. However, because dry-matter intake via milk replacer solids was greater in the accelerated group, total DMI did not vary significantly between groups. Furthermore, they found that, ultimately, increasing feeding frequency did not affect the growth or gain:feed ratio between the groups of calves.

Read the abstract from the February 2013 Journal of Dairy Science.