In order to ensure a healthy and profitable calf, it is vital to have a well-managed feeding program for the calves. Besides sufficient amount of water, colostrum and milk replacer, it is important to have calf starter as part of the calf's diet after birth.
When calves are born, they do not have a functioning rumen. As such, it is critical that a calf starter is fed 1 -3 days after birth. To properly develop the calf's rumen, the fermentation from water and feed are needed. Therefore, by delaying the calf starter intake, it will delay rumen growth. This will ultimately prolonged the age where calves can be weaned.
As a start, offer the calves feed with a handful of starter calf. As the calves start to eat the feed, it is a good idea to offer more of the starter until they are eating as much as they desire. With that being said, try to not overfill the feed bucket because calves have a habit of licking the bottom of the feed bucket while they are eating. By not overfilling the feed bucket, it will also help to prevent the feed from being stale.
It is also very importer to check the calf starter everyday to ensure that they are clean and fresh. If spoiled grain are found, remove them immediately. It is a good practice to have a divider between the feed bucket and water or milk bucket to prevent the feed from getting wet. A good quality calf starter with at least 20% protein should be fed to the calf. Besides that, ensure that the calves have access to clean and fresh water all the time.
As for water consumption, the general rule is a ratio of 4 to 1 of water to calf starter. For example, the calf should consume 4 pounds of water for every pound of calf starter consumed. Consuming a good amount of water will help to increase feed intake, and hence this would lead to faster growth and earlier weaning age.
The primary factor for weaning calves should be the calf starter intake. Although most farmers would make weaning decisions based on age alone, it is also important to evaluate the amount of calf starter consumed by the calves. A good target would be to make sure that the calves are eating approximately 2 pounds of starter for 3 consecutive days.
It is highly encouraged that calf starter are fed to the calves until at least 12 weeks of age to ensure a strong feed consumption through the stress of weaning, grouping and vaccinating. After that, the calves can transition into a growing feed for further rumen development.
These are some of the steps that would help improve the calf's growth rate and thus increasing the farm's profitability.