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Feeding the young calf

A key focus of the calf rearing period is to stimulate the rumen to start growing and developing prior to weaning off milk. Nutritious and health-supporting milk and a good quality starter feed are key components of a successful calf rearing system and can help take some of the stress and risk out of calf rearing.

Milk

After good colostrum intake has been achieved in the first day of life, milk becomes the most important source of nutrients for a calf. Feeding calves transition milk from the first milkings and waste milk from treated cows carries the risk of transmitting Johne’s, salmonella and other diseases such as Mycoplasma Bovis. These and other animal health concerns help to justify the use of well formulated calf milk replacer beyond a simple cost price advantage. There are two main types of calf milk powder – casein based milk replacers and whey based milk replacers. Both types can be used very successfully to rear calves. Casein based milk replacers will tend to clot in the abomasum of a calf, whereas the whey based milk replacers will not. Clotting is not essential for digestion in a casein based milk replacer – it may only affect nutrient flow and not nutrient digestibility or performance of calves1, provided raw materials have not been heat damaged. Anyone specifically buying a guaranteed high curding product is advised to check the curd strength using rennet to confirm it meets their expectation.

Starter feed

Offering a palatable, high protein, grain based calf feed as early as day 5 is the key to kick starting rumen development and stimulating dry feed intake in preparation for a grass based diet.

Top tips for hard feed intake

  • Choose a high quality, mineralised and vitaminised starter feed – ideally with no palm kernel. A key attribute should be a low dust feed with a great taste and mouth feel, as calves don’t like eating fines. Recent improvements to the NRM Moozlee formulation means it is now an even better choice for those who prefer to offer young calves a textured feed, with the added benefit of lucerne chaff for a great taste and to help clean developing rumen papillae.
  • Always make sure the feed on offer is fresh and only put as much into troughs as calves will eat between milk feeds.
  • Calves maintain a lot of mouth activity after a milk feed – hand feeding young calves some hard feed immediately after their milk feed can help get them used to the texture and flavour.
  • Calves can be exposed to coccidiosis from an early age, so feeding a hard feed with a proven coccidoistat such as Bovatec can help prevent a debilitating or even deadly parasite taking hold – but remember to keep away from dogs and horses who can be killed by ingestion of coccidiostats.
  • Always have fresh water available – water is critical for hard feed intake.

For further information, contact your local Nutrition Specialist.

  1. J. I. Longenbach, A. J. Heinrichs, 1998. A review of the importance and physiological role of curd formation in the abomasum of young calves. Animal Feed Science and Technology in 1998.

Article supplied by Stacey Cosnett, Nutritionist, Farmlands.