Editor’s note: The following involves Mich Etchebarne, dairy nutritionist from Modesto, Calif.

Some of Mich Etchebarne’s clients are coming to accept the idea of feeding their calves three times a day rather than two — at a higher plane of nutrition.

A couple of farms have already tried it, and the results have been significant.

“The calves are gorgeous,” Etchebarne says. They are vigorous, healthy animals.

Average daily gains in the first 90 days have gone from 1.1 pounds to 1.8 pounds in Jersey herds, and Holsteins are pushing 2 pounds a day.

The idea behind 3X feeding is to more closely mimic what happens in nature, which allows the animals a better chance of reaching their true genetic potential. In nature, if a calf is left on its mother, it will nurse six to 10 times a day.

In addition to 3X feeding, Etchebarne and work associate Jed Asmus advise clients to feed a higher solids content than traditional 20/20 milk replacers.

Etchebarne and Asmus are applying cutting-edge research in this regard.

For instance, research by Don Sockett, veterinary microbiologist at the Wisconsin Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory, shows that when calves were fed three times a day instead of two, they had a much better chance of entering lactation than calves fed twice a day. During the study, all of the calves were fed the same amount of a 28-percent protein, 20-percent fat milk replacer daily. The only difference was the 3X calves’ portion was split into three meals, with the extra feeding taking place at 2:30 in the afternoon. Otherwise, both groups were fed at 8 a.m. and 9 p.m.

The additional feeding yielded some pretty powerful results — 97.1 percent (or 34 out of 35 calves) went on to become lactating animals in the herd.

“That’s unheard of in the Holstein industry, absolutely unheard of,” Sockett says. “The national average is about 80 percent.”

The calves fed three times per day also calved 16 days earlier and averaged 1,136 pounds more milk during their first lactation. They also had better starter intake, growth and feed efficiency during the pre-weaning phase — what you would expect of calves fed to a higher plane of nutrition.

Read more about Sockett’s research in the March issue of Dairy Herd Management.