Nutrient intake during the first 42 days can have a profound impact on a calf and her performance later in life, says Mike Van Amburgh, dairy scientist at CornellUniversity. Study after study has shown that enhanced nutrition — in the form of extra milk replacer or milk — results in more milk in the first lactation. Often, it means an extra 1,000 to 2,000 pounds per animal. For instance, the University of Illinois found there’s a 1,841-pound advantage in the first lactation (21,687 pounds vs. 19,846 pounds) when calves were fed a 28:20 milk replacer at 2 percent of their bodyweight during the first week and then bumped up to 2.5 percent of their bodyweight during weeks two through five (compared to calves that were fed a conventional 22:20 milk replacer at 1.25 percent of their bodyweight over the same time period).

“We can do something in early life that will stimulate more milk,” Van Amburgh said at the Southwest Nutrition & Management Conference in late February.

“Colostrum sets the whole thing up,” he said. “There appears to be a modest but positive effect of colostrum status on both pre-pubertal growth rate and lactation yield.”

Then, it is important to provide the calf with sufficient energy during the first six weeks of life. Good management post-weaning is still important to obtain the response. To read the paper that Van Amburgh presented at the Southwest Nutrition & Management Conference, follow this link (PDF format).