Research focusing on the feeding and performance of calves and heifers over the past two decades has impacted the way replacements are raised in the United States. Al Kertz, nutritionist and technical services consultant with Milk Specialties Global Animal Nutrition, St. Louis, observes these developments:

  • Feeding calves more of higher-protein milk replacers can increase their growth closer to their biological possibility.
  • Fat level of milk replacers affects calf starter intake, with 15 percent fat having been shown in several trials to optimize metabolizable energy intake and body composition.
  • Differences in daily weight gain of preweaned calves have been correlated with subsequent milk production of those animals.
  • Starter intake is limited by lack of clean water.
  • Reducing variation in calf weight and intake at their first post-weaning grouping has been shown to increase performance and reduce subsequent variation.
  • Providing free access of lactation-quality forages to heifers can cause undue fattening. 
  • Limit feeding of older heifers has been shown to be effective without negative effects.

Looking ahead, Kertz advises that calves are the most vulnerable animals on the dairy, and the most efficient at utilizing nutrients for growth. “Feeding and management decisions must be made on these bases,” he says. “Current death losses of 8 to 10 percent should be 3 to 5 percent, with more attention paid to more optimally feeding young calves before weaning.”

He advises that an undue focus on reducing feed cost for calves can have long-term effects on the ability of those animals to achieve their true genetic potential as cows. “We have the tools, knowledge and equipment to do a better job raising calves,” he states.

Read more of Kertz’ comments.