Dairyman in UK: Should I feed my calves once or twice a day?
This dairyman had been approached by a salesman selling a special milk replacer designed for feeding calves once a day. He was told how much labor he could save by having to go the calf shed only one time a day to feed milk replacer. He was currently feeding a little over four quarts of milk replacer split into an AM and PM feeding each day. He showed me the cup used to measure the powder - it held 120g - that means he was feeding 480gday - just over a pound of powder daily.
So, the dairyman asked me, "Should I feed my calves once or twice a day?" Good question. I responded by asking a question. "What are your goals for your calf rearing program?"
Now, I had in mind the key performance indicators posted at the Dairy Calf and Heifer Association website, calfandheifer.org. They specify thresholds for mortality, treated sick calves and weight gain for the first two months of life. I encouraged him to put this goals into this key performance indicator framework.
It came out that his current death loss for the past couple of years was estimated to be between ten and fifteen percent. He guessed that more than half of his calves were treated for scours and about an equal proportion for respiratory illness. Weight gain? Not measured. We looked at both newborns (ballpark guess on my part of about 90 pounds, he said 40kg for newborns, two months old I estimated about 150 pounds, he said between 65 and 70kg. They were gaining roughly a pound a day or between 425 and 460g/day.
In addition to the milk replacer he offered beginning at the of the first week ad lib. water, pelleted calf concentrate and chopped straw.
Now, here are the key questions I asked, "How often are you in the calf shed now with your current feeding program?" and "How would your calf care routine change if you change to once a day milk feeding program?"
He explained that he currently went to the shed early morning to check calves, empty and refill water pails, mix and feed milk replacer (fed with nipple pails). Then later he came back to refill concentrate pails and straw feeders. He ducked in early afternoon to just "check on the calves" and see if they need more bedding. After PM milking he went there to feed milk replacer and see that all the calves had enough water.
I asked, "How will that change if you feed milk replacer once a day?" "Well," he said, "I just won't have to mix milk replacer in the evening." Get that? He still planned to be in and out of the calf shed at least three if not four times a day. Good animal husbandry was part of his lifestyle - good for him. None of this, "go to the calf shed once a day." This is the kind of guy with his very modest goals for mortality, morbidity and growth that I believe could change to once a day feeding with very few negative consequences.
He would increase his mixing concentration to 150g/liter from 120g/L. He would cut his volume from the current 4 liters (read quarts if liters bother you) to 3.5 liters. Continue free-choice or ad lib. water, concentrate and chopped straw.
We had a fine conversation. I am quite certain that my appeal to set his calf rearing goals higher fell on deaf ears. If it had worked well for his father and grandfather it would work well for him. End of story.
What do I conclude about once a day feeding? If you calf rearing goals are low enough and you will continue to look at the calves three or four times a day to monitor the well being of the calves your outcomes probably will change very little. I do not recall any research that compared feeding once a day with whole milk compared to a 20-20 milk replacer - I am guessing the whole milk calves with a much higher energy intake would do better. If a reader knows of such a research trial send the reference to me and I will post it.