The performance and health of young calves appear to prosper when the short-chain fatty acid sodium butyrate is added to milk replacer during the summer, according to research from the University ofMinnesota’s Southern Research and Outreach Center in Waseca, Minn. It also may be an acceptable alternative to Rumensin in calf starter.

During the study, the researchers assigned 108 Holstein heifer calves to one of four treatments:

    • Control milk replacer (20:20 fat/protein) and calf starter with Rumensin (included at 33 mg/kg).
    • Milk replacer with 0.3 percent sodium butyrate and calf starter with Rumensin.
    • Control milk replacer and calf starter with 0.33 percent sodium butyrate.
    • Milk replacer with 0.3 percent sodium butyrate and calf starter with 0.33 percent sodium butyrate.

      Calves were fed milk replacer twice daily for 35 days and once daily from 36 days to weaning at 42 days of age. Calf starter (18 percent crude protein) and water were available free-choice from one to 56 days of age. The study took place from mid-June to mid-August 2011. Ambient temperatures averaged a high of 81° F and a low of 62° F during the study.

      Here are some key findings:

      • Calves fed milk replacer with sodium butyrate had greater pre-weaning average daily gain and feed efficiency than those fed milk replacer without sodium butyrate. Similar trends were observed for overall average daily gain (day 1-56).
      • Treatment1 had reduced feed efficiency and tended to have lower pre-weaning and overall average daily gain than the other three treatment groups.
      • Pre- and post-weaning (day 43–56) starter intake was no different between calves fed calf starter with sodium butyrate or calves fed calf starter with Rumensin.
      • There were no differences in total dry matter intake during the pre- and post-weaning periods between the four treatments.
      • There were no differences in pre- or post-weaning scouring days and treatment cost between treatments.

      The research was reported this summer at the annual meeting of the American Dairy Science Association, held jointly with the annual meetings of four other animal science societies in Phoenix. Read Abstract No. M303.

      Learn more about the production and performance standards for Holstein calves, from birth to 6 months of age, in DCHA’s Gold Standards I.