As the mercury drops, calves need more nutrients to support their immunity and continue to grow. But an unfortunate side effect can occur from dialing up milk volumes: scours.
Sam Leadley, calf and heifer management specialist with Attica Veterinary Associates, Attica, NY, said he has observed at least 1 in 20 calves will experience “nutritional” scouring, even when volumes of milk or milk replacer are increased by as little as a pint per feeding.
“The herds that are more likely to achieve a smooth transition to higher milk volumes are those that already are tending to the fundamentals of excellent calf care,” Leadley advised. “Feeding high-quality colostrum within 4 hours of birth; checking regularly for passive transfer of immunity; and maintaining a clean, dry, well-ventilated housing environment all will influence calves’ ability to successfully process more nutrients.”
As liquid nutrient levels are increased, Leadley suggested the following key skills will be important to the process:
- Deliver individualized feedings – Not every calf needs the same amount of milk. Most calf-feeding operations that feed more than the traditional 2 quarts twice a day do so by increasing volume as calves grow. That takes specific attention to individual animals or pens to adjust their feedings over time, not just bump up the volume for every calf overnight.
- Feed consistent volumes of milk –This means delivering each feeding within 1 cup of the intended volume. For example, when feeding 3 quarts at a feeding, the actual volume delivered should not vary more than 2.75 to 3.25 quarts.
- Deliver milk replacer mixed at a consistent concentration – An accurate set of scales can be extremely helpful in measuring milk replacer powder as feedings are prepared.
- Feed liquids at a consistent temperature – Milk or milk replacer should be fed within a temperature range of 100-105˚F. In cold weather, multiple batches may need to be prepared to achieve this goal.
- Promptly diagnose scours – Calves should be watched carefully as nutrients are increased so scours can be detected and treated promptly. You also may want to temporarily drop the milk volume back down for a few days when a calf scours after a ration increase.
“Feeding calves is always like walking a tightrope,” said Leadley. “You are trying to maintain a balance, and as you increase liquid nutrients, the chances of losing your balance go up. But managing the details and maintaining consistency can help you keep that balance while you help calves cope with cold conditions.”