The common belief that feeding more milk solids to calves causes scouring, can frighten off farmers from feeding a higher plane of nutrition. UK dairy vet and beef farmer, Robert Drysdale explained that this is a fallacy and that most farmers would benefit from feeding calves more during early life.
High faecal scores not always a sign of disease
Calf diarrhoea is a one of the biggest challenges for farmers, accounting for a large majority of calf disease and reduced productivity. However, studies have shown that looser faeces does not usually mean a calf has disease when feeding more milk solids.
Mr Drysdale explained: "Calves fed more milk solids are eating more, and therefore passing more - but there's no illness happening. It might look looser but the cows are still healthy."
A study by Liang et al. (2016) showed that although calves fed a higher plane of nutrition had higher faecal scores than those fed a restricted diet, there was no difference in the faecal dry matter content. There was no difference in energy digestion and protein digestion and retention was higher in those calves fed more milk solids.
Rethink scours for success
The benefits of a high plane of nutrition for average daily gain; development; resilience to disease and lactation performance are well documented. This is the basis for the LifeStart Program which harnesses the benefits of feeding higher rates in early life to aid improved lifetime performance. LifeStart also promotes focusing on the quality and formulation of the milk / milk replacer to ensure nutrient balance meeting the calf's needs. Nutritional diarrhoea may occur if certain nutrients like lactose are oversupplied.
So while increased volume and liquidity of faeces is not usually cause for concern when feeding increased milk solids to calves; restricting feeding can limit healthy growth and performance. Science shows it's time to address the misconception about calf scours and early feeding.