What is "Normal" calf starter intake?
Calf care persons frequently ask me what amount of calf starter intakes they should expect when feeding high volumes of milk or milk replacer.
For example, in a recently reported research project [Cobb, C.J. and Others, "Improved performance and heightened neutrophil responses during the neonatal and weaning periods among outdoor group-housed Holstein calves." Journal of Dairy Science, 97:930-939, February 2014]
calves were fed 5 quarts of milk replacer in two feedings a day to get 1.6 pounds of powder daily for days 1-14, the next week intakes were increased gradually to arrive at abut 2.2 pounds of powder daily at 21 days (roughly 4 quarts fed twice daily). Free-choice water available.
So, start out slowly, ramp up to full feed, stay there until day 46, drop the afternoon feeding and somewhere between 7 and 8 weeks when starter intake comes up consistently over 2 pounds a day drop the remaining morning milk replacer feeding.
What did they see for calf starter intake (averages for 22 calves housed individually in hutches):
Week 1 - no measurable intake
Week 2 - about 1/2 cup, 2 ounces
Week 3 - more but not yet 1 cup a day
Week 4 - about 1 cup daily, 4-5 ounces
Week 5 - about 1.5 cups daily
Week 6 - less than 2 cups, maybe 7 ounces
Now here is where at 6.5 wks the afternoon milk feeding is stopped.
Week 7 - between 3.5 and 4 cups a day, just under a pound
Week 8 - most of the calves off milk replacer - around 2.5 pounds a day - more than 2 qts.
Week 9 - about 4 quarts/ 4 pounds daily
What really matters is that these calves began regular starter consumption around 3 weeks of age. Give them about 3 weeks for enough development of rumen lining (6 weeks of age) and they are ready to depend on nutrients absorbed through the rumen wall.
The critical characteristic of this feeding program was dropping the afternoon milk replacer feeding at 46 days. The calves still consumed 1.1 pounds of milk replacer powder in the morning feeding - a big contribution toward maintenance. The data show an initial doubling of grain intake in about 4-5 days when the afternoon milk replace feeding was dropped. The next seven days showed an average increase of grain intake from less than a pound a day to over 2.5 pounds daily. At 12 weeks old calves averaged 6.6 pounds a day (note: no hay fed in this trial to avoid confounding effects of roughage).