Managing Milk Replacer Feeding to Encourage Starter Intake
Weaning intensively-fed calves takes more managment skills than when feeding survival levels of milk or milk replacer. Calves need to increase their intake of calf starter grain enough to support maintenance and growth needs before milk is withdrawn if a smooth transition to the grain-water ration is going to take place.
This principle was tested in another feeding trial with dairy calves. [Ballou, M.A. and Others, " Breed and plane of milk-replacer nutrition influences the performance of per-and postweaned dairy calves." Professional Animal Scientist 29:116-123 (2013).
Both Holstein and Jersey calves were used in the trial. Control calves were compared to intensive fed calves.
Control calves were fed 1 pound of powder per day of 21-21 milk replacer. High-feed calves were fed: Holsteins 2.5 pounds of 29-21 powder per day and Jerseys 1.5 pounds of 29-26 powder per day.
The weaning program?
"On day 42 of the study period, the calves were only fed their MR once daily in the a.m. to encourage starter consumption. When calves were consuming at least 900 g as fed of calf starter for 2 consecutive days, the calf was completely weaned off MR." (p117)
The 1#MR/day Holstein calves on day 42 were eating about 1# of starter daily. This in contrast to the 2.5#MR/day calves the were eating only 1/3 as much.
The 1#MR/day calves got cut back to 1/2 a pound a day on day 42. But, the 2.5#/day calves still received 1.25# of MR in their one feeding starting on day 42.
The calves that were cut back to 1/2#/day increased their starter intake 77% in the next 7 days. The calves cut back to 1.25#/day increased their starter intake from 1/3 pound to just under a pound in the same 7 days (150% increase). My experience managing my own intensively-fed calves was similar; perhaps even a greater rate of increase because I only fed 1#MR/day during the weaning period.
Remember that calves were supposed to reach 2 pounds of starter intake daily before they were weaned. This means that a calf care person had to monitor feed intakes.
The 1#MR/day calves were weaned at 52 days.
The 2.5#MR/day calves were weaned 56 days regardless of their starter intake.
The intensive fed calves never got up to 2 pounds of starter before they were weaned - the trial ended at 56 days. They floundered around for 2 weeks on their grain:water ration until their feed intakes recovered to pre-weaning levels. Another profit opportunity lost.
My lessons from this trial?
- Start cutting back on milk sooner than 42 days - maybe around 35 days. That will give more days to come up on grain before milk is stopped.
- Regardless of how high the maximum feeding rate goes (8, 10 or 12 quarts of MR or milk daily) cut back to only 4 quarts of milk or 1#MR per day rather than 1/2 of maximum. Calves will come up more quickly on grain.
- Manage for growth rather than convenience. Keep calves on milk until they reach the farm's threshold of grain intake even if this is not convenient.
- If calving rates force calves out of their pre-weaned housing early try to come up with some way to continue the once-a-day milk feeding until their grain intakes come up.