Dairy calves getting more nutrition earlier in life

New calf feeding standards show calves fed more milk see improved daily gain.

The long-standing practice of feeding dairy calves two quarts of milk or milk replacer twice a day has largely become a thing of the past.

“As an industry, we are recognizing the importance of feeding calves more nutrition early in life and the impact this nutrition has on calf growth and future production,” Tom Earleywine, director of nutritional services with Land O’Lakes Animal Milk Products, said. “Feeding calves a full potential diet of at least 2.5 lb. of milk solids in 8-10 quarts of liquid daily is becoming the new standard of calf feeding.”

According to new data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s recently released National Animal Health Monitoring System (NAHMS) "Dairy 2014" study, 40% of heifer calves received a low plane of nutrition of four to six quarts of milk or milk replacer per day. Twenty percent of dairies in the study used a feeding rate of six to eight quarts per day, while 20% fed 8-10 quarts per day and almost 10% of dairies fed 10 quarts or more per day.

Additional insights from a focused, in-depth NAHMS calf study involving 104 dairy and calf operations in 13 states showed an average of six quarts of milk or milk replacer fed to dairy calves per day. This nutrition was delivered an average of 2.6 times per day, with 2.7 quarts fed per feeding.

The study also found a direct correlation between the amount of liquid nutrients fed per day and average daily gain. About 35% of calves in the study achieved an “excellent” average daily gain of 1.8 lb. per day or more in the preweaning phase. The average daily gain of calves in the study was 1.65 lb. per day.

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