During a recent Volac webinar on the dairy heifer – from conception to weaning – it was outlined the importance of not only ensuring that the calves’ environment is correct, but the importance and benefits of ensuring calves are fed adequate amounts of milk during the pre-weaning stage.

Dr. Jessica Cooke, a research scientist with Volac, and Dr. Ailsa Milnes, ruminant vet advisor at Boehringer Ingelheim animal health, were the main two speakers for this section of the webinar.

Dr. Milnes stated: ”A calves primary source of nutrition in the first three to four weeks of life is milk.”

Feeding more milk from a few days of age will help:

  • Maximise feed efficiency;
  • Prevent early weight loss;
  • Maximise early growth potential;
  • Improve future performance.

Feed efficiency is very high in the young calf (100g of feed will give 50-60g of growth), but these growth rates drop off dramatically during the first year of life – when 100g of feed will only give 9g of growth.

Dr. Milnes highlighted research carried out in the UK ”found that giving calves access to larger amounts of milk at an earlier age increased their weight gain”.

The study looked at a group of calves restricted to 5L per day and compared them to a group that had excess to ad libitum milk.

The study found that calves on the ad libitum milk feeding programme gained up to 8kg in the first 14 days of life, where the restricted calves only gained 2kg in the first 14 days of life.

Farmers may be concerned by calves drinking high amounts of milk having a more liquid faeces, but this isn’t the same as diarrhoea caused by pathogens, Dr. Milnes stated.

With more milk helping calves fight infection/pathogens such as: crypto; parvum; salmonella; and respiratory disease.

Dr. Milnes also noted: ”Lifetime performance is influenced by early life development- this early life programming can be manipulated via nutrition from birth.

”With increased growth rates from 0-8 weeks increasing organ weight per kg of body weight and increased performance in first lactation.

”Calves should be fed at least 6L per day spaced over two feeds, along with concentrates. If calves are receiving more than 6L a third feeding time should be introduced.”