Raising healthy calves is key to achieve future high productivity dairy cows. Having good management, feeding high quality colostrum and feeding good quality milk or milk replacer are essential to any successful calf program.
Here are some pre-weaning feeding practices that will help to raise healthy calves:
Pre-weaning calf nutrition should meet the growing animal's nutritional needs as well as support the transformation of the calf into high performing dairy cow.
High quality nutrition in the first few weeks of the calf's life will enable the calf to reach breeding age sooner, have higher immune system and increased milk production.
It is crucial to ensure that the milk or milk replacer fed provides sufficient energy for maintenance, growth and immune functions.
Most calves under 2 - 3 weeks old are not functional ruminants and they do not get much energy from grain.
Hence, increasing grain intake does not compensate their energy deficiency.
Calves that are not feeling well usually decrease grain intake prior to decrease milk intake.
Feeding pasteurized waste milk will help provide high levels of proteins and fats that will promote growth and decrease cryptosporidiosis but problems could still arise if management is not good.
When choosing a milk replacer, choose the ones with all-milk-source proteins and calculate the quantities needed for optimal growth.
A good quality palatable starter grain with high protein content (over 19%) will help stimulate grain intake and is important for rumen development.
Do not limit milk intake to encourage grain intake.
This will limit growth and will cause the calf to be undernourished.
Generally, weaning can start when a calf eats 1kg of grain per day.
It is essential that grain intake is monitored individually when early weaning is recommended.
Gradual weaning over a period of around 10 days has been recommended.
Calves should not be moved or regrouped until at least 10 days after weaning.
Several studies have indicated improvements in milk production when calves were fed with greater amounts of milk and have higher weight gains pre-weaning.
A meta-analysis of studies evaluating the influence of pre-weaning daily gain on future productivity has estimated that an increase in 100g per day in daily weight gain can result in 155kg more milk in the first lactation.
Studies have also shown that it is not cost effective to try to save money on pre-weaning calf feed because it will affect performance in the future.
Poor health during the calf's early life will have long lasting effects on milk production and herd life.
Calves characterized as having dullness before 90 days old were more than 4 times more likely to die thereafter than healthy calves.
There is overwhelming evidence that poor management and health in young calves strongly impacts subsequent milk production.
Hence, farmers that do not invest in heifers and optimize their health will be losing out in future production.