Get your calves on track to reach their potential

Get your calves on track to reach their potential
By Rachel Hamill, Anexa FVC Veterinarian

Making an effort to feed calves well from day one will go a long way to ensuring this year’s replacements grow to their full potential. Sickness, poor nutrition and energy demands that exceed intake can cause calves to get off to a bad start. These calves are always behind the eight ball, fighting to make up for lost gains. They are also at a higher risk of coming in below target weight when they calve down as two-year olds.

Feeding Tips

  • Newborn calves require 10% of their bodyweight in good quality colostrum (>22% brix refractometer reading) within 6-8 hours of birth. This is critical to establish a good strong immunity, so that calves can put their energy towards growing. Weak and sickly calves with poor immune response will not grow well.
  • Offer good quality starter meal (minimum 20% protein) from day one. Starting meal early gives calves the chance to pick at it and develop the taste for it earlier. Getting calves eating meal promotes rumen development.

  • Offering hay is good, but should not take the place of meal. Offering hay increases the roughage in the diet, helps to “stretch” the rumen and promotes some rumen development. However, hay does not have the nutritional value of meal, and should be limited to 10% of diet. Do not let the calves fill up on hay at the expense of meal.

  • Feeding calf milk replacer (CMR) is a good option in higher pay out years like this one, sparing vat milk. It also reduces the spread of diseases that can pass from cow to calf via milk, such as Johne’s disease.

  • Although a common practice, feeding of waste milk (penicillin milk) should be avoided when possible. Just think, waste milk is produced by the sickest members of your herd. Aside from containing high levels of inflammatory cells and debris from an inflamed udder, it is more likely to contain high levels of bacteria. In herds where Johne’s disease has been diagnosed, feeding this milk to calves can increase the risk of spreading Johne’s disease to the next generation.

  • Remember, not all calf milk replacer is the same. It is important to get a good quality calf milk replacer that meets certain standards – talk to your local vet for more information.

  • Ensure consistency of feeding day to day. Do not change between brands of CMR, concentration, or volume fed suddenly, as it is likely to result in nutritional scours. Recent best practice information indicates that calves need around 20% of bodyweight per day in milk to achieve adequate live-weight targets at first calving.

  • Observe calves closely when feeding, to make sure that none are being bullied. Ensure slow drinkers are monitored carefully. Compartmentalised feeders help to ensure all calves are getting the right volume.

    Got questions, or would like further advice? Ask your lead Vet about a calf rearing consult - we can tailor a plan specifically to your farm and facilities, we're here to help.

    Date Added: Saturday, 5th August 2017


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