Why is raising the plane of nutrition through increasing the intake of quality calories, as the LifeStart Program recommends, important for pre-weaned calves? How much high quality liquid feed should be fed, and when? What is the effect on future performance? The answers to these questions are laid out below.
'Upping the plane of pre-weaning nutrition is key to unlocking calf potential'
Research has shown that early life nutrition, especially during the pre-weaning phase, can have long-term effects on lactation performance. With this knowledge, dairy farmers are rapidly turning away from the traditional practice of restricted feeding of pre-weaned calves.
Why? A number of studies have shown that increasing the amount of liquid feed in those critical first 8 – 10 weeks before a calf is weaned, leads to higher average daily gains (ADGs) which positively impact 1st lactation milk yields.
Up to 1500 kg more milk
In a meta-analysis of twelve scientific studies, researchers found that for every additional kilo of ADG that a calf has prior to weaning, they produce up to 1500 kilos more milk during their 1st lactation alone. Put another way, by implementing the LifeStart Program of feeding and management, dairy farms can expect to see an average 1st lactation increase of 4 litres for every additional gram of growth. And, the effects of feeding a higher plane of nutrition have also been shown to affect performance three to five years after initial feedings.
Another benefit of the higher ADGs achieved by upping the plane of pre-weaning nutrition is the reduction of the age at first calving. This, of course, enables an
earlier start of lactation, thus increasing the lifetime productivity of the heifer while decreasing the overall cost of production on-farm.
What amount of milk feed is best in terms of growth and performance?
The current LifeStart recommendation for pre-weaning milk feed is at least 6 litres per day (with 8 or 10 litres as the goal), with each litre containing 150 grams of high quality milk replacer. Thus 900 g/day is the recommended minimum quantity of milk replacer that will help dairy farmers meet their calves' desired health and growth objectives.
Minimum 2 feedings a day
When upping the plane of nutrition in this way, splitting the amount of milk feed into a minimum of two feedings per day is best. This may require additional on-farm management, but automatic feeders can help reduce the additional labour required.
Research has shown that upping the plane of pre-weaning nutrition is key to unlocking the performance potential of calves. Feeding the right quantity of high quality milk replacer that consistently delivers the calories required for optimum growth is essential. Proper management of liquid feed pre-weaning is just one of the ways that dairy farms can raise the bar for on-farm performance.