Dr. Noah Litherland, Vita Plus – Precision Calf Nutrition

Posted on July 2, 2014 in Starting Strong - Calf Care
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Article written by Macy Sarbacker
Precision nutrition is the idea that you treat the calf as an individual, according to Vita Plus Dairy Youngstock Technical Specialist Noah Litherland. If calves are not growing or are losing bodyweight, then the start of first lactation is delayed and potentially compromised. This is the core reason that precision nutrition for dairy calves is vital for your operation.

The plane of nutrition impacts the rate of growth, the efficiency of growth and starter intake.  Increasing the precision of milk nutrition for young calves is important. Milk is typically 12.5 percent total solids, which makes up an osmolarity of 300 mosmoles/mL. It is believed that the calf is naturally “designed” to use the solids concentration of milk. If the solids concentration increases or decreases greatly, this may result in digestibility issues or digestive tract upsets.

It is also important to increase the precision of starter grain for young calves. Research is continually being done to evaluate strategies to meet nutrient requirements that makes calves grow, maximize their health, and reduce the cost of doing so for farmers. Very few studies have shown any benefit of increasing starter grain protein content to greater than 18 percent. The most important aspects of starter grain to consider are intake and palatability.

Finally, it is important to increase the drinking water precision for young calves. Try to avoid over- or under-feeding drinking water. Calves should have access to clean drinking water at all times – even in the winter. If you’re having trouble getting your calves to drink water, try warm water. Calves prefer warm water between 100 and 105 degrees F.

Take-home messages:

  • Balanced nutrient intake from both milk and starter is probably the most practical way of achieving high rates of growth, good rumen development and maximized calf health.
  • Preventing scours starts with feeding high quality colostrum in a timely manner, managing equipment cleanliness, and being able to quickly identify and rehydrate calves that develop scours.
  • To evaluate the precision of your calf nursery program:
    • Set a goal for calf growth.
    • Have your nutritionist evaluate the program using modeling software with inputs of calf bodyweight, temperature, feed nutrient composition and feeding amounts.
    • Measure growth to determine if calves are meeting growth goals.
  • The key future components of calf nutrition may be amino acid and fatty acid balancing.
    • Feeding a precise blend of amino acids from both milk and starter may meet amino acid demands for growth with reduced amounts of crude protein.
    • Feeding to meet specific fatty acid requirements appears to have positive benefits in the gastrointestinal tract in regard to maturity and immune system function. These positively affect growth and efficiency.
    • If calves are not meeting growth goals, evaluate the complete system to find points of restraint.

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Category: Calf and heifer nutrition
Starting Strong - Calf Care