Nutritional Needs in Calf’s First 10 Days

Posted on December 26, 2017 in Starting Strong - Calf Care
By Ann Hoskins, Vita Plus calf products coordinator
The first days of a calf’s life set the stage for its health and performance as it grows.

Day 1
Colostrum is a loaded first meal for the young calf.  Calves require fat and protein for energy and muscle development in the first days of life, as well as growth factors and many other nutrients that are concentrated in colostrum. Feed 4 quarts of high-quality colostrum to calves within two hours of birth and ideally follow that with another 2 quarts six to eight hours later. If high-quality colostrum is not available, look to a high-quality colostrum replacer to fill that need.

Day 2 and moving forward
Calves have some basic needs for survival and these needs will change based on animal size and the environment.

Using the Nutrient Requirements of Dairy Cattle Simulation, we can determine what a calf needs at various weights and factor in weather.  For example, let’s use a calf that weighs 85 pounds and has an environmental temperature is 60 degrees F. This calf requires 1.55 Mcal per day of metabolizable energy to meet its energy maintenance. Feeding this calf a 25/25 milk replacer at a rate of 1.5 pounds per day will result in 1.37 Mcal energy allowable gain and 1.24 Mcal apparently digestible protein (ADP) allowable gain. We are not only meeting this calf’s needs early in life, but also allowing for attainable gain.

As we know, energy needs increase quickly this time of year.  These needs may be met by adding fat supplements, adding an additional feeding, feeding more volume or increasing solids in the milk.

We recommend feeding milk replacer solid solutions at a rate of 12.5 to 14 percent.  I refer to this as the “safe zone.”  Work with your nutritionist to ensure you are feeding within the safe zone always weigh powder and water.

Those feeding pasteurized milk should also check solids levels in the milk. Pasteurized milk can vary in solids depending on the number of fresh cows versus other cows going into the pool. It is good to routinely test to see how much variability is in the milk. If solids are low, additives can be added to supplement the milk. Those additives will also bring valuable minerals and vitamins to the mix.

To know how to feed your calves early, it is best to look at your entire program and establish long-term goals. Those goals may be certain weights and heights at various time points, reaching breeding age earlier, reducing morbidity, reducing cost, etc.

Along with goals comes benchmarking. Collecting data – such as calf weights, days on feed, grain intakes, etc. – and using it to make choices about your feeding program will help you determine what is the best course of action for your calves.

Category: Animal health
Calf and heifer nutrition
Colostrum management
Starting Strong - Calf Care