Optimising Calf Nutrition to Drive Healthy Performance: Part 2

Recent research is helping dairy farmers re-think calf milk feeding strategies for optimum health and lifetime performance. In an interview with British Dairying, Volac nutritionist Ian Watson discusses the importance of feeding high quality protein to young ruminant animals.


DEVelopments in Calf nutrition

The British dairy industry is starting to wake up to the fact that it may have been underfeeding calves for quite some time, but the next step change will be driven by improvements in the quality of pre-weaning diets fed to the nation’s calves.

Download our Farmers Guide – How Much to Feed the Pre-Weaned Calf


Volac Nutritionist Ian Watson believes that the main priority for dairy heifer calf nutritionists is to convince farmers to feed these valuable milking herd replacements appropriately.

“It is also important to recognise that although water and energy are the first limiting nutrients for the young calf, feeding high quality protein is also crucial. After water and energy, protein is the next most important nutritional component of the diet,” he says.

“The nutritional requirement for protein in the young ruminant animal – whose digestive system in the first few weeks of life is very similar to a mono-gastric – is better referenced by looking at the availability and digestibility of the amino acids supplied. Breaking this down further, there are essential amino acids that cannot be synthesised by the pre-ruminant calf and these must be supplied in the diet in sufficient quantity to ensure the maintenance of normal bodily functions and growth,” Mr Watson points out.

He adds that the absolute amount of each amino acid (in g/day) required by the pre-ruminant calf will depend on a number of factors including liveweight, health status, energy supply and the target daily liveweight gain.

“When formulating diets the term most commonly used to describe protein is ‘crude protein’ – but this is simply a measure of the nitrogen (N) content of animal feed multiplied by a conversion factor of 6.25. Sadly, there is no correlation between the amino acid content of a feed and the crude protein declaration on the label,” he says.


Volac is always examining how best to ensure its milk replacers meet the crucial balance between energy level, ideal amino acid balance and cost efficiency.

Find out more about the Volac range of Calf Milk Replacers.

“With the current volatility in dairy markets (dairy protein supply and cost), there is increasing industry-wide interest in replacing a proportion of the dairy protein in milk replacers with vegetable protein. However, when precision formulating diets using non-dairy proteins, both the physical and nutritional attributes of the alternative protein sources must be taken into account,” Mr Watson says.

The Feed for Growth Programme provides practical advice, resources and support to help farmers grow better cows. Find out more today.

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