WINTER calving is here – are you ready? On average, 14.5% of live-born heifers fail to even reach first calving – every calf born needs gold star attention from day 1 to help reduce these losses.
The ability of a calf to convert feed into growth rapidly falls from around 50-60% (i.e. 100g feed will give 50- 60g growth, assuming a healthy calf in a thermoneutral environment) during the milk feeding period to only 9% by 13 months of age. The pre-weaning period is therefore one of the best opportunities to maximise growth, starting with colostrum.
Colostrum not only helps to protect the young calf against disease, but it is also important for calf growth and development. Furthermore, recent findings suggest that colostrum could help to improve the digestibility of subsequent milk feeds. Colostrum quality should be checked using a colostrometer – remember, a much higher volume of poor quality colostrum will have to be fed to offer the same level of disease protection as a smaller quantity of good quality colostrum. A good level of cleanliness and hygiene is vital – bacteria can double every 20 minutes if colostrum is left at room temperature.
A calf uses nutrients to maintain vital body functions (digestion, temperature, respiration) and only those nutrients in excess are used for growth. Calves must be fed sufficient energy and protein to support the target growth rate – this depends on the total amount of milk powder and calf starter fed per calf per day. Remember – grams of feed IN will determine grams of growth OUT. If targeting 0.8 kg per day of growth – a calf will need at least 800g of milk powder per day plus ad-lib calf starter.
Choose the right milk replacer for your system – if feeding calves a higher amount of milk powder for increased growth, then milk replacers with a higher protein content (23% and above) combined with a lower fat content (20% and lower), will help promote lean tissue growth and limit body fat. Calf milk replacers vary enormously (type and quality of ingredients, level of protein, fat and ash) – which determine their digestibility in the young calf.
Always purchase a milk replacer from a trusted supplier – previous calf performance gives the best guarantee for the milk replacers quality.
Be prepared for calving: having agreed protocols in place for calving, colostrum management and the subsequent milk feeding period will help pay dividends in later life.