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Extension > Agriculture > Dairy Extension > Feed and Nutrition > Trim costs but not performance

Trim costs but not performance

Jim Paulson, Regional Extension Educator, Dairy

Published in Dairy Star July 28, 2007

The future of your dairy herd depends on your calf and heifer raising program. You need a well grown, healthy heifer that will calve at 22-24 months of age and be ready to produce milk. However, the price of milk and whey are at historical prices, which directly impacts the price of milk replacer and the total calf rearing costs. Does the higher cost warrant changes in your calf feeding program? Is there anything we can do to save some money?

First let’s review some basics of feeding calves. Regardless of which milk replacer or milk feeding program you use, calves that fail to receive adequate colostrum and therefore fail to receive adequate passive transfer of immunoglobins may gain as little as half as much as  calves receiving adequate amounts of colostrum. Research reported in 2005 from Arizona also showed calves that received 4 quarts versus 2 quarts of colostrum produced significantly more milk in their first lactation. Our recommendation is to give calves a gallon of colostrum in the first six hours of life. I prefer to feed it by a nipple bottle. Tubing a gallon of colostrum is practiced on some dairies but this tends to slow the passage of colostrum to the lower gut as more goes into the rumen and has to pass to the abomasum before it forms a curd and is digested.

Second, the protein and fat percentages of milk replacer along with the cup size in a bag may not be related to the requirements of the calf. If we have an 86-lb calf born and feed it at the “recommended” 10% of body weight, we would feed 8.6 lb or about 1 gallon a day (two quarts morning and night). Usually the cup size is 8 or 10 oz and one cup is mixed at each feeding. Given the opportunity, a calf of this size would quickly start drinking 20% or more of its body weight or about a gallon of milk morning and night. This is one reason calves that are fed a gallon of pasteurized waste milk morning and night grow so much better than calves that are fed two quarts of a 20:20 milk replacer.

Calves need three weeks of adequate calf starter consumption of a half pound or more daily to develop the rumen and provide nutrients to the calf. A calf needs to be consuming a minimum of 2 lb of a quality 18% calf starter in order to be weaned and maintain adequate daily gains. Calves also need water to develop the rumen. As a rule, calves need two quarts of water for every pound of calf starter consumed. A calf has a daily requirement for amounts, not percentages, of crude protein, fat, minerals, vitamins, etc. to optimize growth. Table 1 illustrates the impact that the different calf feeds and amount fed have on average daily gain at two different temperatures.

Are there strategies to save some money at this stage of growth? Using lower cost milk replacer will almost always reduce daily gains and efficiency of gain. Reducing the amount fed per day may significantly reduce growth and delay age of freshening, thereby adding to total costs. Feeding once daily after 4 weeks of age, no matter which level of milk or milk replacer, will greatly increase calf starter consumption. Research by Penn State about 20 years ago showed feeding milk replacer at 10% of body weight all at one feeding increased starter consumption enough to wean earlier. Research done in Korea and reported in the latest Journal of Dairy Science compared calves fed milk at 10 and 20% of body weight. After 4 weeks, the calves fed at 20% were stepped down to 10% of body weight by feeding once daily. Weaning was at six weeks. Even though they had consumed less starter before 4 weeks of age, the step down calves consumed more starter totally, gained more and were more feed efficient compared to the calves fed at conventional levels. If you are currently weaning your calves at 6, 8, 10 weeks or more, you may want to consider dropping to once daily milk feeding two weeks prior to weaning to accelerate calf starter consumption and consider weaning earlier.

Table1. Average daily gain of calves fed milk or milk replacer with or without calf starter (lb/day).

Temperature

68° F

30° F

Diet

Energy gain

CP gain

Energy gain

CP gain

Whole milk, 2 gal/day

2.13

1.73

1.58

1.73

Milk + 2 lb calf starter

3.45

2.66

1.77

1.65

20:20 milk rep
(4 qt, 1.25 lb)/day

0.79

0.72

0.01

0.72

20:20 milk rep
with 2 lb of calf starter

2.30

1.65

1.77

1.65

5 lb of calf starter/day

2.46

2.09

1.95

2.09

Energy gain: energy allowable gain.
CP gain: crude protein allowable gain.

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