New work from the Institute for Agrifood Research and Technology in Barcelona, Spain, recently took a look to see what effect different forage sources would have on the performance and feeding behavior of calves.

Researchers conducted a series of three studies — each one involving 60 bull calves. Calves were around 14 days old and randomly assigned to one of three different dietary treatments. Control calves that were fed concentrate without any forage provision. The two other treatments consisted of the same concentrate plus a forage source. Forage sources were: chopped alfalfa or rye-grass hay; chopped oat hay or chopped barley straw; corn silage or triticale silage, depending on group. When compared to the control group, animals receiving chopped oat hay, triticale silage and chopped barley straw consumed more starter and grew faster. On average, animals that received rye-grass hay, chopped barley straw, corn silage and triticale silage consumed more dry matter from forage than the chopped alfalfa hay and chopped oat hay. The calves that received chopped alfalfa hay and rye-grass hay spent more time ruminating and devoted less time to non-nutritive oral behavior such as licking the walls.

Researchers conclude that the provision of a free-choice chopped forage source to young calves will improve feed intake and performance. Depending upon which forage source is fed, non-nutritive oral behaviors can also be reduced and rumination stimulated. Offering chopped forage seems to be an effective method to ensure rumen health without compromising intake and performance.

This work was presented at the 2011 American Dairy Science Association meeting.