Optimising Calf Nutrition to Drive Healthy Performance: Part 1

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 talks about what the future holds.


Optimising 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. That’s the view of Volac nutritionist Ian Watson, who says the specialist young animal nutrition company is ready to meet the technical challenge.

“We know that feeding a good heifer calf up to 900g of milk replacer daily may be needed to meet optimum rearing targets – and absolutely crucial if you want to calve heifers down at 24 months. But more importantly, we also know feeding modern dairy calves to this level makes sound economic sense,” he says.

Mr Watson points to studies showing that calves gaining 800g a day have the potential to produce 450 litres more milk during their first lactation, compared with calves reared on a traditional system gaining only about 500g per day. “Research also shows that feeding higher milk replacer levels leads to fewer calves failing to reach a second lactation. So providing the necessary nutrition to sustain rapid growth rates (>750g per day) during the first two months of life should not only result in more efficient and economical heifer rearing, but also deliver greater lifetime milk output when these replacement animals join the milking herd,” he says.

 He adds that if milk replacer intakes are restricted, calves simply look for nutrition from the other feeds available and invariably this means eating more concentrates.

“But this can limit early growth because the rumen is not developed to efficiently digest solid starter feeds until around four weeks of age,” Mr Watson points out.

“Calves on a high quality, precision-formulated milk replacer are receiving a highly concentrated energy source – so much so that to achieve the same energy intake from a solid starter feed requires a dry matter intake 1.5 times that of the milk. What’s more, further research has shown that there is a large amount of important early life development in the pre-weaned phase. The development of both mammary cells and the gut – and metabolic programming – all take place during this crucial early life period, so feeding high levels of milk enables us to take full advantage. It’s also the time when feed conversion efficiency is at its highest.”

Download our Farmers Guide on how much to feed the pre-weaned calf

The importance of feeding calves more milk has also been supported by recent research at Harper Adams University, albeit with male calves. In this study with British Blue x Holstein and Holstein bull calves starting at 15.4 days old until weaning six weeks later, calves fed 150g/day more milk replacer were 5.6kg heavier on average at 12 weeks of age.

“The team at Harper noted that the calves fed higher levels of milk were healthier and had better faecal and coat bloom scores, concluding that this was possibly because their immune status was better. They have also stressed that across all the calf trials they have done, calves recording lower daily liveweight gains never catch up, which really does highlight the importance of the industry capitalising on this highly efficient early growth phase.”

Cold weather

FFG-Environment-Impact of cold stress

Mr Watson says that during cold weather, calves may need to be fed even more milk. “When temperatures fall below 15°C calves under three weeks of age need more feed to hit growth targets and boost immunity.

“Under mild weather conditions (15°C-25°C), for dairy calves to grow at an average of 750g per day in their first few weeks of life they need to be fed at least 750g of milk per day alongside dry feed and water.

“But when the temperature plummets you need to feed more. And if the temperature drops below freezing, daily energy requirements increase by up to 30%.”

He says that high moisture levels or draughts just exacerbate the problem. “In fact, draughts of just 5mph can make calves feel 8°-10°C colder,” he says.

Download our Farmers Guide to Protecting Young Calves from Cold Stress

Mr Watson stresses that it is vital that all newborn calves receive adequate good quality colostrum (at least three litres within two hours of birth), whatever the ambient temperature.

“When it comes to milk feeding in cold weather, you really need to step up the level of milk solids by 100g per day for every 10°C temperature drop below 20°C,” he advises.

“This is best achieved by feeding milk more frequently and, in fact, this only mimics natural feeding behaviour when the weather gets colder. If calves are given the choice they will feed at least three times a day – and if given free access to milk, possibly up to 10 times a day – drinking little and often. Keeping bedding plentiful, clean and dry is also important, and consider too the use of thermal calf jackets. By not taking measures to either keep calves warmer or increase nutrition during extended periods of cold weather, you could be compromising animal health through a reduced immune function and daily growth will also be reduced. And it’s important to remember too to maintain good milk intakes even if calves are scouring,” he adds.

Next week we will look more closely at the nutritional requirement for protein in calves and how to optimiSe protein quality.

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

Visit Volac at UK Dairy Day

VOLAC HAS PLENTY GOING ON AT UK DAIRY DAY THIS YEAR – visit us in the new calf rearing zone, which Volac is sponsoring and is part of the event’s farmer ‘Knowledge Trail’, and on stand H221 on Wednesday 13th September to find out more.

Come and explore the latest product and service innovations from Volac – all developed to help you make your dairy farming business more efficient and sustainable.

NEW computerised calf feeder and free consultation

Urban Parallel Pro June 2017-4

Take advantage of the very latest technology: the new Urban Alma pro incorporates automatic teat cleaning with disinfection and the ability to deliver doses of medications to individual calves.

A versatile new computerised calf feeder will be unveiled at the event. The new Urban Alma Pro represents the very latest in calf feeding technology and is particularly innovative because it incorporates automatic teat cleaning with disinfection. This new machine is capable of feeding up to 120 calves during the pre-weaned milk feeding period.

This new machine is a great step forward at a time when the industry is focusing on sustainable, high performance calf rearing. Helping to protect calves from teat-transmitted infections – thanks to an improved hygiene system that incorporates automatic teat cleaning with disinfection after every calf feed – and, uniquely, the ability to deliver the right dose of any necessary medications, such as electrolytes, to the right calf, at the right time, will be widely welcomed. The Urban Alma Pro also incorporates a range of other innovative features and benefits to help farmers rear better youngstock more efficiently,” says Jason Short from Volac.

He adds that the new computerised feeder is equipped with the latest touch screen technology to give users a simple overview of calf health and welfare – alerting rearers to any management issues and allowing for timely intervention as necessary – and full WiFi connectivity to allow remote access to the system on and off the farm.

“The Urban Alma Pro simplifies effective, hygienic calf feeding and eases work load for the farmer. The calf milk replacer is mixed precisely with water and an in-line temperature sensor ensures the milk always arrives at the teat at the correct temperature. The machine recognises an individual calf’s ear tag or collar when it enters the feeding station and allocates the correct milk portion and concentration accordingly. Once the calf has taken its feed the teat will re-track and be sprayed with cold water and a disinfectant solution. Machine hygiene status has also been enhanced to allow sanitisation with acid and alkali up to four times a day, which cleans and sterilises the feed lines and bowl.”

Compared with bucket feeding, the new machine will save producers 190 hours of labour time for every 120 calves reared. Group feeding also saves on individual pen bedding preparation.

Calf rearers interested in the new machine can ask for a free initial consultation to establish building layout and appropriate siting. Customers can also call on Volac representatives to set up the calf feeding programme and milk concentration levels according to individual requirements.

LEARN how to rear HEALTHIER calves

At 11.30am and 1.30pm Volac nutritionist Ian Watson will be talking about how to rear healthier calves in the calf rearing zone, which Volac is sponsoring.

FREE grass silage appraisals

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With the important role of good quality silage in milk production, we’ll be offering farmers the opportunity to sign up for a number of free grass silage appraisals.

Available as part of Volac’s Cut to Clamp initiative launched earlier this year, which aims to help farmers produce consistently better silage by focusing on best practice methods for making and feeding silage, the appraisals will take the form of on-farm consultations with a silage expert.

They include an on-farm audit of the six key stages of cutting, wilting, harvesting, treating, clamping and feeding – aimed at identifying practical ways in which silage feed value and keeping quality can be improved.

“We realised there was a clear need for practical ways to improve silage-making after conducting a survey of over 100 dairy farmers before the start of the season,” Volac product manager, Jackie Bradley, explains.

“In the survey, nearly 80% of farmers felt they could make better grass silage, with just 19% saying they felt completely in control of how well their grass silage turned out after sealing the clamp. More significantly, the results also highlighted some significant shortcomings in silage-making techniques.

Good quality silage plays a crucial role in the sustainability of dairy farm businesses, and these are no-obligation, on-farm consultations. We’re able to offer a limited number at the event, and farmers can come to the stand to check availability throughout the day.

As well as recommendations for improving grass silage, Volac will also be offering timely tips for making maize silage, as the timing of the event coincides with preparations for forage maize harvest on many farms.

“This again follows further survey results on maize silage-making carried out last season, which also revealed shortcomings,” Mrs Bradley says.

“Despite 71% of respondents rating preventing aerobic spoilage as their biggest challenge when preserving maize silage, not all respondents were fully utilising all available methods to prevent it,” Mrs Bradley adds.

Enjoy UK Dairy Day. We look forward to welcoming you to stand H221.

24 Hours in Farming is back this year

24 hours in farming is an opportunity for UK agriculture to shout about the industry, what it does and how proud we all are to be a part of it. This years event starts at 5am on Thursday 10th August 2017 and anyone can take part! All you need to do is post on any social media platform using the hashtag #Farm24.

01155 24 Hours in Farming Social July 2017_v110

Social media provides a great tool to spread the message about the work farmers do day in, day out, and we’ll be participating in this year’s event across all of our own social media channels.

Find out more about 24 Hours in Farming

Tell your story

Last years event was a huge success with #Farm24 being seen 112 million times and this year promises to be bigger and better!

Anyone taking part in 24 Hours in Farming 2017 is urged to not only take to social media on 10 August, but also to get out and speak to the public about what they do. This might be an on farm event or even an interview for local radio, but whatever you do let’s make sure we all take this opportunity to highlight just how hard working and dedicated UK farmers are.

Taking part in 24 Hours in Farming

Volac are proud to once again to be participating in this unique event.

We won’t ever take farmers for granted. Everybody at Volac simply wants to say thank you. We all acknowledge the tremendous debt of gratitude owed to the nation’s food producers who work so hard 24/7, in all weathers, to deliver such a fantastic array of high quality produce. To show just how much we appreciate all this hard work we will be participating in 24 Hours in Farming across all our social media channels – watch out for members of our team offering their personal thanks on the day!

We hope you will all join us on 10th August.

Combating common calf diseases

Pneumonia and scour are among the most common calf diseases.

FFG-Health-Disease from bacteria

This week’s blog investigates their causes and how to prevent these common calf diseases.


Pneumonia is the biggest killer of calves from the dairy herd, the highest risk period being during the first 12 weeks of life. Lung damage in affected calves will also reduce productivity through reduced growth rates and treatment costs – medicines, labour, vet costs. Even after the animals have apparently recovered losses can occur in dairy heifers through reduced performance in first lactation and in beef calves, long term impact on weight gain and carcass grading.



Pneumonia is caused by a mixture of viruses and bacteria. In most cases there are management factors that make the calf more vulnerable to disease.
• Poor ventilation – the bacteria and viruses which cause pneumonia survive better in moist, stale air
• Wind speed – young calves exposed to moderate draughts will use too much energy to keep warm and are more prone to disease
• Cold stress – young calves will get cold in standard UK winter temperatures
• Underfeeding – especially in cold weather. Calves will cope with low temperatures if extra nutrition are provided
• Weaning management – calves need to be gradually weaned so that nutrition intake from hard feed is sufficient prior to stopping milk feeding
• Mixing age groups – allows disease to spread from older to younger calves


1. Pneumonia control should be discussed with your vet
2. Reduce the risks by:
• Improving air quality in cattle sheds
• Preventing cold stress in young calves
• Ensuring sufficient calorie intake in cold weather, step up milk replacer rate

Download our Farmers Guide to Calf Pneumonia


Scour is the most common disease of dairy bred calves; it is caused by a combination of viruses, bacteria and parasites that can spread from calf to calf, for example rotavirus, E. coli, coccidia and cryptosporidia. An effective scour prevention program can be simplified into two areas – maximising calf immune function and minimising their exposure to disease.


• A dirty calving environment can expose new born calves to scour causing pathogens
• Low colostrum intake
• Underfeeding increases susceptibility to disease
• An unhygienic environment due to overcrowding, mixing of age groups, using pens for young calves without regular cleaning and disinfection and spreading infection from older to younger calves on the calf rearer’s clothing


• Discussing the cause with your vet – is it infection or nutritional? and then preventative strategies, for example vaccination
• Making sure your calves are receiving enough quality colostrum a minimum of 10% of birthweight ideally within the first two hours, tested with a colostrometer or refractometer.
• Keeping the calving area clean and hygienic
• Cleaning up the udder if the calf is to suckle its dam
• Maintaining a clean environment for young calves – clean and disinfect pens between batches and prevent contact between animals of different ages
• Making sure each calf receives adequate nutrition to promote immune status

Download our Farmers Guide to Calf Scour

Improve performance with farm benchmarking

Family farms make up around 80% of Britain’s agricultural landscape, however a lack of planning for the future may be putting these important businesses at risk. To demonstrate our support and commitment to family farms across the UK, Volac is proud to co-sponsor Farmers Guardian’s ‘Year of the Family Farm’ initiative. In the latest part of the series we take a look at farm benchmarking, a hugely powerful tool for the family farm.


Year of the family farm series

Year of the Family Farm has been running throughout 2017 and as part of the initiative a Year of the Family Farm series has been launched which aims to address the issues facing family farms and identify opportunities which will help them become fit for the future.

The latest part of this series focuses on farm benchmarking which can be a hugely powerful tool in cutting costs and improving performance. However in reality, the number of farms undertaking benchmarking is likely to be nowhere near as high as it should be. So how do you carry out effective farm benchmarking and who do you compare your performance with?

Why is benchmarking so important for family farms?

Farm benchmarking is focused on a series of marginal gains to improve performance, rather than wholesale change and can be particularly beneficial to family farms who are more likely to prefer to cut costs than to invest capital to improve their operation. While it can show simple savings to be implemented immediately, the information can influence a long-term strategy, leading to a gradual evolution in the farm’s structure and operation.

Anything which can be measured can be scrutinised, from yields, labour and fertiliser costs to feed conversion, age at first calving and daily liveweight gains.  There is nothing new about the process, but technology has now made it easier to capture and compare data quickly and easily.

Pressure on farm incomes and an acceptance that support payments are likely to reduce raises the importance of farms sense-checking their performance against other farms. Strutt and Parker partner Rob Wilkinson says more farms need to do it.

 I suspect there is an element of benchmarking which goes on in most farm businesses, but a lot of it will be off the top of the head. “We have tried to encourage it for years and interest is born out of farming without Basic Payments. Farmers need to look at how they are going to put money back into their bottom line. “But the amount of people physically sitting down and filling out data is probably very few.

How do you start farm benchmarking?

To get started with farm benchmarking, follow these 5 steps:

  1. To begin with, start with the set of accounts
  2. Look at Farm Business Survey’s website and enter the data
  3. Take advice from a further source, such as a consultant or analyst
  4. Act practically on it by using an independent source who can analyse it and suggest the next steps
  5. Join and participate in a discussion group – national or regional

Farm benchmarking in action

The more people you can measure yourself against the better, says Wiltshire dairy farmer James Wright.

Benchmarking on Wiltshire dairy farmer James Wright’s family farm begins as soon as the calves are born. Mr Wright farms a herd of 370 pedigree Holstein cows in the North Wessex Downs and starts by measuring a newborn calf around the middle with a weighband.

He says: “Every calf is born at different weights and we are aiming to get it to double its birth weight by the time it is weaned.” Mr Wright also utilises technology, such as a Volac automatic feeder for his calves, which he says allows different staff members to manage calves, as the machine keeps track of what each individual calf requires.

The farm then collects data on the cow’s fertility, health and yields, which Mr Wright measures against other farms and his own previous performances. He says keeping track of a cow’s fertility is paramount. “If she is only bulling for one hour in the middle of the night, we would probably miss the heat, so cows wear pedometers. “These measure the cow’s movement, as when a cow is in heat she will move around more.

It means we have eyes and ears on the cows 24/7, with the aim to get them back in calf quicker. “We are aiming for an 80 per cent plus survival rate from birth to second calving.” Mr Wright benchmarks across three different groups: nationally through his Sainsbury’s Muller contract; locally through his vets, Drove vets; and against a group made up of a ‘very diverse group of farms’, including low input and high input systems.

He says: “We can look at different aspects and we can see which way would suit the farm.” Mr Wright says due to benchmarking carried out on-farm, he is always adjusting the way it works, which has helped improve the farm’s performance.

“The more people we can benchmark against the better.” He denies benchmarking is simply a ‘box-ticking exercise’ and encourages those who might be cautious about sharing data to do it. He says there is a bonus to be made from benchmarking and reaching targets set by buyers.

There is a bonus to be made. It is a motivator for staff and it will lead to being more profitable. “In terms of milk contracts, it is about making sure you get into their top band.

Mr Wright encourages farmers who are cautious about sharing data to look into joining benchmarking groups, as results are confidential between those who present at meetings.

Find out more about farm benchmarking here or to catch up on the full Year of the Family Farm series visit FG Insight.

Newcastle and RDSVS student win Farm Health Management Awards 2017

We are pleased to announce that Elizabeth Johnson, a BSc Animal Science student from Newcastle University and Ellen Smith, studying at the Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies (RDSVS), Edinburgh have been crowned as the winners of this year’s RABDF Farm Health Management Awards.


Volac is extremely proud to sponsor this award which brings a focus to the importance of taking a holistic approach to best practice in livestock management. Each of the winners was presented with a £500 cash prize from us at Gold Cup Open Day in Dorset on Wednesday 28th June.


Alongside the two winners, certificates were also presented to two short listed finalists: Louise Swanston studying BSC Animal Science at Aberystwyth University and Olivia Dower-Tylee, a Veterinary Medicine and Surgery student at RDSVS, Edinburgh.

The annual competition, now in its tenth year, is open to agricultural and veterinary students from any course year including postgraduate students. Applicants are required to write a 1,500 word essay on proactive farm health management and the benefits it brings to animal health and welfare and farm profitability.

The essays were judged by a panel featuring RABDF Council member and Gelli Aur College farm manager, John Owen; veterinary surgeon Oli Hodgkinson, and John Summer, dairy consultant and award chairman.

Students had to demonstrate an understanding of disease costs and its financial impact on business performance together with the impact of good nutrition, consider the environmental effects of disease and its likely impact on meat and milk quality, comment on the importance of collaboration between farm staff, vets and other advisors in formulating health management plans and consider the differences among the various livestock sectors and how one can learn from another.

With an extremely high standard of entries, we would like to offer our congratulations to this year’s winners and our continued support for this important award.

“We are pleased to support agricultural and veterinary students in this award which brings a focus to the importance of taking a holistic approach to best practice in livestock management. We believe that their heightened awareness towards a proactive approach to farm health management covering all aspects, from housing and nutrition to financial impact, will be of huge benefit in their future careers.” said John Reynolds.

More information about the award is available here.

Hygiene: Combating common calf diseases

We could all learn a lot from the pig and poultry sectors where routine cleaning and disinfection is crucial. Bacteria and viruses are present in large numbers on all farms, and the diseases they and other germs cause are common and costly.

FFG-Environment-Hygiene-Clean pens

This week’s blog looks at pens, their design together with cleaning and disinfection. We’ll also investigate coccidiosis, one of the three most common calf diseases. Next week pneumonia and scour will come under the microscope.

Pens and Buildings

• Try to design calf pens so that, as a minimum, they can be emptied and cleaned prior to the new arrivals.
• Germs such as bacteria and viruses will accumulate in calf pens.
• Very few units have the facilities to allow all in, all out systems; they’re the ideal.

Pen design

1. Choose materials for calf pens which are easily cleaned and disinfected, for example metal or plastic.
2. The flooring surface should have no cracks or pits that are hard to clean.
3. Make sure you will be able to both empty and clean the drinkers and feeders between batches.

Cleaning and disinfection

FFG-Environment-Hygiene-How should I clean my pens

1. Remove all organic matter prior to cleaning and disinfection; after cleaning out the straw bedding, use a pressure washer or steam cleaner to remove the remainder.

Don’t forget, using a pressure washer in an occupied building can increase the disease risk for remaining calves. Try to remove the pen fixtures for cleaning in a separate airspace to the other calves.

2. Use a recommended disinfectant at the correct concentration on all surfaces that calves can touch. Where surfaces are cracked or damaged or porous and difficult to clean, apply a greater concentration of disinfectant to these areas.

3. Allow the pens to dry out prior to new arrivals.

Download our Farmers Guide to Housing for Young Calves

Coccidiosis: a very common problem with significant losses. Prevention is essential as treatment is too late.

Coccidiosis occurs anywhere from 12 to 21 days after ingestion of the Coccidia parasite. It causes significant gut damage, leading to scouring sometimes with blood, the calf will be seen straining and weight loss can be significant. Infected cattle go on to suffer impaired lifetime performance – reduced weight gain, treatment costs and longer time to either finishing or first calving. Severe outbreaks can result in death or chronic poor-doers which have an increased likelihood of suffering from pneumonia.


Coccidia is a common parasite present on most units. The disease occurs when young calves are exposed to high numbers.

Infection is passed from animal to animal through contact with infected faeces due to:

• Poor disinfection of pens between batches of calves
• Pen overcrowding
• Insufficient or poor quality bedding
• Grouping calves of different ages in the same pen
• Using pens on a continuous basis
• Allowing animals to contaminate feed or water with faeces, for example forage fed on the floor or concentrates being fed from low level troughs


1. If you think Coccidiosis is affecting your cattle – discuss control with your vet. Note, once you have identified an incident, damage to the gut has been done.
2. Reduce the risk of young calves coming into contact with infected faeces by
• Introducing all in, all out calf pens with good hygiene in between batches
• Preventing faecal contamination of forage and concentrate
• Isolating animals with severe clinical signs otherwise they will contaminate the environment

Wrap it pink this season for breast cancer research

Following the huge success of last year’s campaign, Volac is once again helping to raise money for Breast Cancer Now with our pink bale wrap campaign.

pink bale wrap

The campaign, which sees a donation made to the charity Breast Cancer Now from sales of each roll of a special pink version of the film used by farmers to wrap the bales, raised over £26,000 in 2016. This compared with over £10,000 raised from a similar campaign in 2015.

For every roll of the pink Topwrap film purchased, £3 will be donated to the charity Breast Cancer Now – with contributions toward the £3 coming from Volac, as well as Trioplast, the film’s manufacturer, and from the merchant supplying the roll.

Note: Topwrap RS1900 pink bale wrap has 1900m of film on a roll, as opposed to the standard green wrap sold which is 1500m. On average it is 7% cheaper than standard wrap and wraps 26.6% more bales.

The huge support received for this campaign last year, with pink bales appearing up and down the country, demonstrates the huge generosity of the farming community to support this fantastic cause.

Jackie Bradley, Product Manager for Volac said:

We have now had two very successful years running this campaign and raising money for a cause which is so close to our hearts. We are so pleased to be launching the campaign again this year and would love to see farmers and the farming community getting involved this year, to see if we can raise even more money for breast cancer research.

Pink Bale Wrap – Where to Buy

So think pink and support breast cancer research today

You can purchase pink bale wrap from your local merchant, while stocks last!

Merchant name Area
McCaskie Fm Supplies Scotland
East Coast Viners Aberdeenshire
Birsay Farmers Orkney Islands
Peacocks Of Thirsk North Yorkshire
SWLF Lancashire
JS Hubbuck Northumberland
Eden Farm Supplies Cumbria
Countrywide Nationwide
Robson Animal Health Northumberland/Co Durham
Coars NE Ltd North Yorkshire
Watermans of Tiverton North Devon
Cornwall Farmers Cornwall
WD Lewis Wales & Border Counties
Wynnstay Wales & Border Counties
RD Chester Herefordshire
Cox & Robinson Somerset/Northamptonshire
Mole Avon Devon/Cornwall
Gledhill Accessories West Anglia
RD Chesters Wales & Border Counties
Bodle Bros Sussex
KWG Ltd Kent
MG Simister Ltd Staffordshire/Derbyshire
Nichols Cow Avon
Corwen Farmers Wales & Border Counties
Hay & Brecon Farmers Wales & Border Counties
Aspatria Fmrs Northern England
BATA Northern England
Moorside Farm Supplies Northern England
Furness & South Northern England
Harbro Scotland
Tarff South West Scotland

Don’t forget to share your pink bale creations with us!

We’d love to see what you do with your pink bale wrap, so please get creative and share your photos and videos on our dedicated facebook page or @eocsyl_ using #pinkbales

Making the most of heifer growth rates

Feed conversion efficiency (FCE) is optimum in young animals – that’s a fact.


Heifer replacement FCE is highest in the first eight weeks of life after which it rapidly tails off – check out the graph.

In the first two weeks, 100g of feed will give approximately 50 – 60g of growth, after which it dramatically falls during the first 12 months of life, by when 100g feed will only give approximately 9g of growth.

Heifer feed efficiency

Heifer growth rates

* (Average daily gain) / (dry matter intake) x100

Source: IRTA

Feeding for growth has also proved to be cost effective according to research findings from the Institute of Research and Technology in Agrifood (IRTA). To achieve average age at first calving at 23 months and a body weight of 650kg, feeding a total six litres of milk per day to weaning at two months resulted in the lowest total rearing feed costs.

The data in the following table confirms that heifers fed four litres during the same period had some catching up to do later on when FCE is lower. In other words it is cheaper to put weight on heifers earlier.

Milk volume fed and the impact on total heifer rearing costs
(calving 23 months, 650kg body weight)

ffg graph

 Three reasons why FCE is the highest in early life

1. Milk is more digestible and nutritious than concentrate to a young calf

2. Calves fed concentrate utilise the ME that they consume less efficiently than the energy derived from milk or calf milk replacer. This is because at least some of the carbohydrate and protein in starter feed must be fermented in the rumen prior to being digested by the calf. As rumen activity increases, the amount of heat produced by the animal also increases which can be considered a loss as it cannot be utilised by the animal

3. Before puberty, growth is mainly bone and muscle, after which heifers gain more fat relative to bone and muscle, consequently they are less feed efficient.

FCE is not the only high point during pre weaning.

a. This phase is extremely important for the development of stomach, organ and mammary cells which together with metabolic programming are set on particular trajectories during this period of the calf’s life.

b. Improved early nutrition and growth rates are also correlated with increased plasma IGF-1, a hormone associated with higher growth rates which help to support increased disease resistance, improved immune response and in turn, reduced mortality.

Finally, two external factors determine FCE

Feed: ingredients can impact, as does quantity; refer back to the above table.
Environment: environmental stress can have an adverse impact on FCE.

To find out more download our Farmers Guide to Feed Conversion Efficiency.

Attention to detail: Part 2

Unlocking potential in the milk drinking phase

RLH Volac33977
This week we’re introducing four more fundamentals that will help you to unlock your heifer calves’ potential. Small management details like these can contribute towards their growth and the animals’ ability to hit required growth targets for 24 month calving.

Fact, if you increase your heifer calves’ daily liveweight gain from 500g to 800g in the milk
drinking phase, then they’ll have the potential to increase yield by an average 450 litres in the first lactation*.

1. Drinking angle

The strength of the oesophageal grove reflex is triggered by sucking, milk temperature and the position of the head. Consequently, calves need to drink from shoulder height to ensure neck extension, a weak groove reflex can cause milk to enter the rumen which can lead to problems such as bloat and scours. If you bucket feed, then raise the buckets to sit at least 30cm from the floor.



2. Consistency

Whatever you do – from the time of feeding to volume, concentration and
temperature of milk, dry feed and access to straw – be consistent. It’s vital to sustain intakes and growth.

3. Maintaining and cleaning feeding equipment

Check teats regularly – splits and wear and tear could lead to fast drinking and in turn, abomasal overflow and scour which could impact on growth. Check again to make sure the teats are set up right – the hole should be in a + position, not an x position, otherwise milk flow will be compromised.


4. Ambient temperature

Your calves have a thermal neutral zone of 15oC to 20oC, below which they will need more energy for maintenance and keeping warm. If this energy is not supplied, then growth rates and immunity could be compromised. Jackets are useful to keep calves warm from birth to three weeks, whilst ensuring they are bedded on clean, dry straw in a draught free environment.

Finally, measure and monitor: your heifer calves will need to gain 800g/day throughout
the rearing period if they are to double their birth weight by weaning and go on to reach 85
– 90% of mature weight by calving at 23 to 25 months, weigh your animals regularly to ensure they are hitting these targets

* Adapted from Soberon & Van Amburgh 2013