While traditional dairy calf management programs have restricted the amount of liquid feed pre-weaning to about 10% of birth weight in an attempt to promote both starter consumption and rumen development, current research is focusing more on the effects of elevating the plane of nutrition for pre-weaned dairy calves. By increasing the volume of liquid feed pre-weaning to about 20% of birth body weight, the results have been higher ADG’s, earlier pubertal onset, potentially higher milk production over multiple lactations, and decreased signs of hunger. However, it is thought that this higher plane of nutrition, which is offered on most commercial dairy farms in two meals per day, may pose some long-term effects for calf metabolism and digestion, particularly in terms of insulin sensitivity.
In “Effect of plane of milk replacer intake and age on glucose and insulin kinetics and abomasal emptying in female Holstein Friesian dairy calves fed twice daily,” MacPherson, et al. examine if any potential negative effects on insulin sensitivity of feeding higher planes of nutrition twice-a-day might persist once calves are weaned. They also examine the effect of higher planes of nutrition on speed of abomasal emptying and what this could mean for blood glucose levels.
What they found supports the feeding of higher planes of calf nutrition pre-weaning in that there is, in fact, minimal effect on insulin sensitivity and glucose metabolism when calves are fed 8 L of MR/d in 2 meals daily compared to 4 L of MR/d. They also found that these minimal effects may at least be partially due to the ability calves have to slow down their abomasal emptying when processing larger amounts of liquid feed. This slowing of the digestion decreases the rate of nutrient delivery, thus reducing sharp spikes in blood glucose concentrations.
To learn more about this research, take a look at our Technical Note or take a look at the original research: MacPherson, J.A.R, H. Berends, L.N. Leal, J.P. Cant, J. Martin-Tereso and M.A. Steele, 2016. “Effect of plane of milk replacer intake and age on glucose and insulin kinetics and abomasal emptying in female Holstein Friesian dairy calves fed twice daily” J. Dairy Sci. 99: 1-11.