Dairy replacement nutrition: What we have learned in the last five years – Dr. Noah Litherland, Vita Plus
Click here to download Litherland’s PowerPoint presentation.
Just as you need a solid foundation with a good blue print to build a house, you need a sound starter program to successfully raise calves. A good starter program will not only give your calves the best start to production, but will also reflect well on you as a producer.
“Calf growth is important because it is not only an expression of health, wellbeing and adequate nutrition, but also how well we are doing as producers,” said Dr. Noah Litherland, Vita Plus dairy youngstock technical specialist, during his presentation at Vita Plus Calf Summit.
Within the past five years alone, research has shown the benefits of feeding starter to calves. This includes a 27-month average daily gain of 1.71 pounds. Other benefits are:
- Development of rumen tissue important for the absorption of volatile fatty acids (VFA), which are the end-products of microbial fermentation
- Increased energy from fermentation of starter grain
- Increased protein for growth
- Increased microbial mass and diversity
- Bacterial fermentation resulting in the production of B-vitamins
- Stimulation of cud chewing and rumination while resting
- Increased water intake and colonic health
- Added vitamins and trace minerals needed for growth
When you begin a starter program, it is important to start small to let their rumens develop. If you overfeed calves, they will have a higher risk of health problems and a reduced rate of growth.
As Litherland said, “Good things come to those who wait, and good things come to those who ruminate.”
Litherland said you can begin by offering 0.25 pounds per day for weeks one to two and increase the amount offered as you see fit. The average optimal intake for weeks one to nine is about 2.6 pounds per calf per day. The table below provides recommendations for optimal feed intake by age.
He said it is also important to keep feed fresh with quality ingredients and a balance of starch and fiber. Some feeds are starting to offer kibbled corn with a 91.1 percent starch digestibility and cottonseed hulls, which shrink papillae width to increase starter intake and growth and hold more water.
Other ways Litherland said you can optimize starter feed intake is limiting the amount of milkfat fed to calves and providing adequate water.
Lastly, he said it is always important to provide each calf with enough clean and warm drinking water. The recommendation is about 5 pounds of water per pound of starter given within 10 minutes of feeding to digest properly.
While keeping these recommendations in mind, Litherland reminded attendees that slow growth is expensive growth. If your calves don’t grow, then neither will your business – and that is a chance many aren’t willing to take.
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