It seems logical that if you feed calves more, they will be likely to grow more. But what about the correlation between higher plane of early nutrition and health? This is the question that Michael Ballou, Associate Professor Texas Tech University, answered.
Nutrition and disease
Nutrition can influence development of the gastrointestinal tract and its immunity, which are both vital for short term health and longer term resilience to disease. Dr Ballou described one study in which Holstein calves fed a higher plane of nutrition of milk solids had better hydration and faecal score improvement following Cryptosporidium parvum challenge at three days of life. (Ollivett et al., 2012)
Another study looking at effects on post-weaning health, cows previously fed a low plane of nutrition pre-weaning had a decreased ability to kill E.coli a month after weaning, compared to those fed a high plane (Ballou, 2012; JDS). Similarly, Ballou et al (2015) showed that calves fed higher levels of milk solids before weaning had improved resistance when challenged with Salmonella one month after weaning. They had lower levels of inflammation and fewer calves showed clinical signs of disease than those previously fed a restricted diet.
All round resilience
Dr Ballou hypothesised that restricting feeding delays the development
of gastrointestinal immunity and may also increase the likelihood of non-nutritive oral behaviours, such as licking the environment, potentially contributing to increased risk of disease.
High plane of nutrition may also be beneficial for respiratory disease (Sharon and Ballou, unpublished).
Holstein bull calves were fed either a low or high plane of nutrition and were weaned at 54 days of age.
At 81 days of age, calves were challenged with bovine herpesvirus followed by Mannheimia haemolytica.
Four of the low fed calves died while none from the high group died.
The data suggests that feeding a high plane of nutrition pre-weaning can improve immune development and the health of calves before and after weaning if implemented correctly. This supports the LifeStart Program, which harnesses the benefits of feeding higher rates in early life to aid improved lifetime performance.
It's time to shift our focus from short term growth goals to long term resilience.