This year’s calves will be your future milk producers of your herd; so it is paramount that heifers get the best start in life.
For this to happen; they must be kept on a high plain of nutrition from birth to weaning. Before turn-out, a mixture of whole milk or milk replacer, concentrates and hay/straw should be fed. They should also have access to fresh, clean water daily.
It is vital for rumen development that a calf is offered a source of concentrates from three to five days-of-age. Although, they will only eat a very minimal amount up until about three to four weeks-of-age.
It is best practice to offer a small fresh amount of concentrates each day – to encourage consumption – as it can be difficult to get young calves to eat concentrates that have been sitting in the feeder for more than one day. This is also useful to avoid wastage.
- Improved rumen development;
- Increased daily weight gain;
- Improved future calf performance;
- Reduced health issues and mortality.
Type of ration
A course ration should be offered rather than pellets as it is more palatable for the calf. Be sure to check the label before purchasing concentrates; it should have a recommended crude protein of 18% and a minimum energy value of 12 MJ ME/kg of dry matter.
After a few weeks – as intake increases – a pelleted ration can be introduced instead of a course.
Source of fibre
In addition to feeding concentrates; a source of roughage should be introduced to aid rumen development. This is particularly important if a pelleted ration is being fed; as it does not contain as much fibre as a course ration.
Ideally, hay/straw should be introduced at the same time as concentrates. It is important to not feed too much; as this may reduce their intake of concentrates.
The quality of the fibre introduced is also important. Poor quality fibre, or long-stemmed fibre, reduces a calf’s intake; as it is not easily passable through the rumen – so creates a fill effect.
Furthermore, it is vital that calves have continuous access to fresh, clean water. Water is needed to aid fermentation and the development of the rumen.