A recent study at the University of Minnesota Dairy Cattle Teaching and Research Facility in St. Paul, Minn., set out to determine if increased feeding frequency of smaller meals of milk replacer increased grain intake in calves compared with conventional twice-daily milk feeding.

“I recently visited dairy farms throughout Minnesota with my University of Minnesota extension colleagues,” says Noah Litherland, University of Minnesota extension dairy nutrition specialist. “We observed that many dairies have invested in automated calf feeding systems, but the producers had questions about feeding procedures to optimize calf health, welfare and growth performance.”

The researchers did not have an automated calf feeding system for the initial study, so extra feedings were done in a controlled manner to simulate an automatic calf feeding system. They observed an increase in grain intake in calves fed four small meals, versus the same amount of milk replacer fed in two meals.

“We found that feeding the same amount of milk replacer in four meals vs. two meals may offer health and growth efficiency benefits to dairy calves when compared with the current industry standard of feeding twice daily,” says Litherland.

“We really did not see a benefit in structural (frame) growth, but did see an increase in average daily gain and starter intake,” he adds.  This trial was conducted in the winter in Minnesota, so results may vary with season. Overall, calves in the study were very healthy.

According to study results, feeding four times daily resulted in higher starter intake when calves were fed a 20:20 milk replacer. This higher starter intake resulted in more than 11 pounds of additional body weight gain for calves fed four times daily through day 56. As expected, calves fed the modified accelerated program showed some growth enhancements over the conventional milk replacer program. Overall, there was a low incidence of scours throughout the study.

Additional research is planned.

Get the full study.

The research was detailed at the recent Minnesota Dairy Health Conference.