Giving calves a great LifeStart - Part 2

19 February 2018

This is the second article on how to give calves a great LifeStart. Last month, the vital role of colostrum in getting calves off to the best possible start in life was discussed.

To summarize, feeding four litres of high quality colostrum to calves as soon as possible after birth, improves health and growth of young calves. However, there is also an opportunity to build upon this good start by feeding a higher plane of nutrition before weaning (900 – 1200 g of powder daily at 150 g/litre).

This scientific principle, termed LifeStart, is that a high quality of calf nutrition in the first 60 days of life will permanently improve health and production, and has been demonstrated in many studies worldwide. The topic for this month will be to dispel some of the myths surrounding feeding calves a higher plane of nutrition.

Myth 1: Calves should only be fed up to two litres per meal

This has become common practice on farms, as it was previously thought that a calf’s abomasum could hold a maximum of two litres. However, recent studies have shown that three week-old calves can voluntarily consume up to 6.8 litres of milk in a single meal without milk overflowing into the rumen. This supports the research that demonstrates feeding higher amounts of calf milk replacer improves growth and lifetime performance.

Myth 2: Feeding more milk solids costs more

As milk solids are more expensive than starter feeds, does feeding more calf milk replacer cost more? The efficiency of converting feed to weight gain is much higher during the first few weeks of life than any other point in the growth cycle. Therefore, every kilo you feed in the first two months of life will cost less than doing so later in the heifer’s life. Research shows that on average, every 100g of extra growth during the first two months of life results in 250kg of extra milk in the first lactation.

Myth 3: A cow’s metabolism cannot be permanently changed

It is common to think that a cow’s genetics will determine her metabolism and milk yield. However, nutrition in early life can have a large and long-term impact on metabolism. Studies show that during the first two months of life, feeding a high plane of nutrition improves calf growth rates, organ development, and changes the genes than control metabolic pathways. This has been shown to lead to a greater performance later in life.

Myth 4: Elevated planes of nutrition before weaning have no effect on health after weaning

Research has shown that feeding a higher plane of nutrition before weaning can improve immune development and health of calves, both before and after weaning. This improved health helps to harness the benefits of feeding higher rates in early life, improving lifetime performance.

Myth 5: Feeding elevated planes of nutrition gives calves scour

There is a common thought on farms that feeding more milk solids to calves causes calf scour. It is true that calves that are fed more will pass more faeces however, this is not scour. Research has shown that calves fed a higher plane of nutrition gain more weight and are healthier, compared to calves fed a lower plane of nutrition.

So can I feed higher amounts of any calf milk replacer?  

It is important to use a good quality, highly digestible calf milk replacer when feeding a higher plane of nutrition. If a poorer quality calf milk replacer is fed at higher levels, certain nutrients like lactose can be oversupplied and cause a nutritional scour. Calf milk replacers that have been formulated to the high LifeStart scientific standards and are proven suitable for feeding at higher levels, have the LifeStart logo.