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Extension > Agriculture > Dairy Extension > Health and comfort > An overview of four years of calf research at SROC

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An overview of four years of calf research at SROC

Hugh Chester-Jones and Neil Broadwater

The University of Minnesota Southern Research and Outreach Center (SROC) Calf and Heifer Research and Extension facility in Waseca contract raises over 800 dairy heifer calves annually for three Southern Minnesota commercial dairy operations. Since 2004, completed nursery (56 days) and post weaning (up to 112 days) applied studies have been conducted involving over 3,000 heifer calves. Calves are picked up twice weekly at 2-4 days of age and remain at SROC until 6-7 months of age with the goal of providing high quality heifers when transferred to next stage growers. Upon arrival at SROC, calves are weighed, hip heights taken, and a jugular blood sample drawn. The sample is used to check total serum proteins using a refractometer (see Table 1 for calf profiles). Overall calf losses at SROC are < 2%. Currently, DHIA records are being used to document calving age and first lactation performance of all heifers back to their respective dairy herds.

Table 1. Profile of heifer calves contracted at SROC from 3 dairy farms from 2-4 days up to 6 months of age.
Item Farm A Farm B Farm C
A. Upon arrival
Number of heifers 885 1,593 978
Initial BW, lb 88.8 86.7 87.2
Initial serum protein, g/dl 5.4 5.4 5.2
Initial serum protein profiles
B. 6 month profile of 2,397 heifers
Final BW, lb 476 462 451
Final hip height, in 45.5 44.9 45.1
Total ADG, lb 1.92 1.91 1.91

Calf Nursery Research Studies. A target goal for calf performance is to double the initial body weight and gain at least 4 inches of frame height by the end of the nursery phase. These goals have been attained in a number of calf groups but there are some variations by season of the year. Studies have been designed to provide options for both milk replacer (MR) and calf starter programs in relationship to calf performance, health, and potential changes in economic efficiencies.

Table 2. Average pre- (1-42 days) and post-weaning (43-56 days) calf starter (CS) intake by 14-day periods and season of the year across recent SROC studies 2004-2006a.
Time of year No. calves 20:20 MR lbs/day CS CP% Day 1-14 Day 15-28 Day 29-42 Day 1-42 Day 43-56
Dec-Feb 40 1.50 20 2.6 14.8 34.2 51.6 67.2
March-May 72 1.25 18 2.0 11.2 29.0 42.2 63.7
March-May 111 1.25 18 1.9 12.1 29.9 43.9 63.5
May-July 124 1.25 18 1.2 8.8 24.6 34.6 55.9
July-Sept 100 1.25b 18 0.8 9.4 27.2 37.4 58.3
Oct-Dec 125 1.25 18 1.8 15.8 33.4 51.0 64.5
a Adapted from Chester-Jones (2007).
b Non-medicated milk replacer.

Postweaning Studies. On-going SROC research is looking at various transitional management and feeding strategies-a challenge on many dairies. Once in group pens, heifers are typically fed grain mixes with access to hay.

In summary, options have been investigated at SROC over the past four years to support improvement in consistency of nutritional management for calf raising programs from 2-4 days up to 6 months of age to optimize the growth and health of dairy calves.

For further details on these studies, contact Hugh Chester-Jones or Neil Broadwater.

Published in Dairy Star July 3, 2008

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