Beef calf nutrition for vitality and performance

5 January 2017

Dr. David Kenny, Principal Research Officer of Ruminant Nutritional Physiology at Teagasc, the Irish Agriculture and Food Development Authority, was interviewed after he addressed the audience during the symposium which marked the official opening of Trouw Nutrition's new Calf & Beef Research Facility in the Netherlands last April. In his interview he discussed ways to improve early life beef calf nutrition, how to do so even while taking into account the diversity of worldwide production systems, and the critical role that nutrition plays during the first six months of a calf's life, in terms of future performance.

Dr. Kenny pointed out that as he detailed during his presentation, when the protein content of milk replacer is increased in tandem with upping the plane of nutrition, the growth rate of beef calves rises. He added that it's also important to pay attention to the method used when mixing the milk replacer, as well as the manner and methodology that's used to feed it to the calves. Dr. Kenny feels that paying attention to details such as these will help improve overall beef efficiency.

Even though there is great diversity in beef production systems throughout the world, Dr. Kenny emphasizes that the protocols and overall blueprints for success are indeed quite similar. While he concedes that feeding methodology, breed, age of weaning and other specific factors will vary from location to location, he notes that the overarching importance of good quality materials, fed in a proper manner, combined with the health of the calf, are all absolutely critical across systems, in order to achieve better overall performance.

In explaining that the effects of a low plane of nutrition are impossible to reverse or recover from after six months of age, Dr. Kenny stated that with beef cattle, the advantage (or disadvantage) at weaning is more or less fully retained right through to the time of slaughter. So, if a lower plane of nutrition is fed in the first six months of life, growth performance will be lower. But, if the calf experienced a higher plane of nutrition, growth will indeed be higher. Likewise, he notes the link between better early life nutrition and earlier onset of puberty in bull calves. As the timing of sexual maturity dictates when the animal will become productive within the breeding herd, Dr. Kenny conveyed that upping the level of nutrition for beef calves in the first six months of life is absolutely essential.