Post-Weaning Growth Found to be Critical Factor for Production of Mature Dairy Cattle

Post-Weaning Growth Found to be Critical Factor for Production of Mature Dairy Cattle

Recent research confirms that how a calf is managed from the moment it is born defines how much she will produce as a lactating dairy cow with the most profit potential.

According to Dr. Mike Van Amburgh of Cornell University, proactive calf program goals should include a minimum of doubling a calf's birth weight within the first 56 days of life. Calf mortality should also be less than 5 percent and calf morbidity less than 10 percent. According to NAHMS 2007 data, calf mortality was found to be 9.6 percent, and morbidity greater than 32 percent.

Calf growth needs don't end at weaning. In fact, at weaning, a dairy calf's rumen is only partially developed. Creating an optimal rumen structure and condition during the first 90 days following weaning is an important consideration for every calf raiser and dairy producer. A fully developed rumen is critical for the proper digestion and nutrient absorption of the heavy forage-based diet a dairy cow will consume during her productive years.

"We often hear of producers noticing a growth slump in their dairy calves following weaning, even after a good nutritional foundation," says Dr. Dari Brown, young animal marketing leader with Land O'Lakes Purina Feed. "Often, this is because calves are taken off of a diet of milk and starter and transferred right onto a high proportion of forage, supplemented with little or no grain. At this stage of the calf's development, she really isn't ready for a high forage diet. As such, her body can't digest and absorb adequate nutrients and energy from the forage she consumes, and growth rates suffer."

In addition to weaning goals, growth goals also are recommended for dairy calves post-weaning - from 12 to 24 weeks of age. Still considered a calf at this age, healthy frame growth and development are important. Additionally, post-weaned calves are still able to more efficiently convert feed to healthy gain. Maintaining a high-protein grain diet, up to 10 pounds per day, with plenty of fresh water offered at all times and clean hay provided ad libitum is what Land O'Lakes Purina Feed recommends for dairy calves, ages 12 to 24 weeks. "We have found through our own research, that this program helps extend and enhance the effects of a good, full potential feeding program," concludes Brown.

Numerous industry research studies, including the most recent Van Amburgh research, continue to confirm the benefits of a higher level of nutrition for young calves. Among them are:

. Enhanced immune system support - because calves have more available energy to maintain consistent body temperature and mount an immune response to health challenges

. Optimized response to vaccinations

. Less need for feed-additive antibiotics due to the improved natural immunity

. Earlier calving and entry into the milking string, contributing to the
chance of more calves to the operation over time, as well as fewer days spent in the pre-lactation herd

. Greater first-lactation milk production (at least seven university studies show increased milk production ranging from 1,000 to 3,000 pounds per cow from calves fed a full potential diet)

Land O'Lakes Purina Feed LLC is North America's leading feed company serving producers nationwide through local cooperatives and independent dealerships by providing an extensive line of animal nutrition, ingredients and expertise.

09.19.2011