Feeding calves three times a day is becoming a more popular practice. New York calf and heifer specialist Sam Leadley said two recent studies evaluating the practice yielded very different results.
Both studies compared feeding calves 2X versus 3X. The first (Trial 1) limited milk-replacer intake to just over a pound of powder per day (1.5% of birth weight). The second (Trial 2) fed milk replacer at 2.5 pounds of powder per day (2.8% of birth weight). In both trials, the same amount of powder was fed to every calf – the only difference was whether it was delivered in two or three feedings.
The feeding interval times were as follows:
Trial 1 – 2X: 6:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m.
3X: 6:00 a.m., 12:00 noon, 5:00 p.m.
Trial 2 -- 2X: 8:00 a.m. and 9:00 p.m.
3X: 8:00 a.m., 2:30 p.m. and 9:00 p.m.
In Trial 1, the researchers found no significant difference in rate of gain or size of calf between the 2X and 3X groups. In Trial 2, 3X calves had 19% higher bodyweight gain, 20% hip height gain and 17% better feed efficiency.
Leadley suggested the combination of increased nutrients spread over more feedings was beneficial to the animals in Trial 2. Increased nutrients supported improved growth, and spreading those nutrients out over three feedings per day helped to prevent scours.
He also noted that colostrum management can make or break a feeding program, and that calves must have adequate passive transfer of immunity to utilize the nutrients provided to them.
Click here to read Leadley’s complete comments on 3X feeding in his most recent issue of his Calving Ease newsletter.