Feeding calves milk or milk replacer twice a day is traditionally the way we’ve fed calves. But new research may have you reconsidering it.
“We decided to take a look at two times per day versus three times per day feeding because it appears that, if done correctly, health, feed efficiency, plane of nutrition and growth should all be improved,” says Tom Earleywine, director of nutrition services for Land O’Lakes Animal Milk Products.
In addition, the researchers hypothesized that three times a day feeding would reduce age at weaning.
Researchers took 38 Holstein bull calves with an average initial weight of 105.6 pounds and employed them in an 83-day trial to evaluate two strategies for feeding full potential rates of milk replacer. The strategies included: two feedings daily with calves weaned at seven weeks of age or three feedings daily with calves weaned at six weeks of age. Calves received a 28 percent protein: 20 percent fat milk replacer.
Calves fed two times a day for seven weeks received 1.25 pounds of milk replacer per feeding or 2.5 pounds of milk replacer daily. Calves fed three times a day for six weeks received 0.9 pounds of milk replacer per feeding or 2.7 pounds of milk replacer daily. This resulted in the same amount of total milk replacer fed to each group.
The milk replacer contained all milk protein and was medicated with neomycin and oxytetracycline. Calf starter was fed throughout this trial.
Calves fed three times a day for six weeks gained 80 pounds by seven weeks of age compared to 73 pounds for calves fed twice a day for seven weeks. At 12 weeks of age, calves fed three times a day for six weeks kept the weight advantage, gaining 170 pounds compared to 149 pounds for those calves fed twice a day for seven weeks.
Hip height (0.85 inch greater) and heart girth (1.4 inches greater) were also improved for calves fed three times a day for six weeks.
“Three-times-a-day feeding offers you a chance to wean calves one week earlier if you are currently weaning at seven weeks,” says Earleywine. The caveat being you must feed them more per day when you switch to three times a day.
Weaning calves one week earlier will definitely pay for the additional labor of the third feeding, says Earleywine. “You could afford to pay someone $50 per hour to do the third feeding if you are able to shorten the weaning period by one week.”
Any time you feed calves at a higher plane of nutrition (greater than 1.5 pounds of milk replacer) the milk replacer should be at least 28 percent protein or you will get poor growth in body weight and frame (height, width and length), notes Earleywine.