Studies show feeding calves to a higher plane of nutrition may result in increased growth rates as well as decreased treatment costs and increased overall health. But what happens after the calf is weaned, do the benefits carry through post-weaning? Is it possible for calves raised on a conventional program to catch-up? “It’s a common misnomer for people to believe calves will “catch-up” growth during the weaning period,” says Dr. Bruno do Amaral, dairy nutrition consultant with Purina Animal Nutrition. A recent field trial that do Amaral conducted showcases the continued growth benefits of feeding to a higher plane of nutrition.
The original trial compared two feeding programs through weaning. The conventional feeding program consisted of pasteurized waste milk and an 18 percent calf starter. The higher plane of nutrition program included pasteurized waste milk with a Pasteurized Milk Balancer supplement along with a 20 percent seasonal calf starter. (A Pasteurized Milk Balancer® is a supplement product developed to be added to pasteurized milk to increase the total solids fed and also to balance fat and protein in the final solution.)
Through-out the trial, calves fed to a higher plane of nutrition, outperformed calves on the conventional program, with an average daily gain of 1.77 pounds per day compared to 1.29 pounds per day.
Ten and half months later, do Amaral went back and taped and weighed each animal. Of the 20 heifers that started the trial for the higher plane of nutrition group, the average bodyweight was 675 pounds. Of the 20 heifers fed the conventional program, 2 died and the remaining 18 heifers had an average bodyweight of 651 pounds. Note during this time period, both groups of heifers were managed and fed exactly the same.
“The advantage continues to go to the higher plane of nutrition fed calves, weighing an average 24 pounds more,” says do Amaral. “A greater percentage of the calves in the higher plane of nutrition group weighed more than 700 pounds.
“When these heifers reach 850 pounds they will be ready for breeding. If a higher percentage of them are close to breeding size at 10.5 months, this translates to overall earlier age at first breeding, earlier age at first calving, less cost in feeding those animals and more opportunity to have animals coming into the milking parlor,” says do Amaral. “This is significant versus the expense of feeding those heifers an extra month or longer to reach breeding weight and size. In addition, calves fed a higher plan of nutrition early in life may produce on average 1,500 more pounds in the first lactation.
“It all goes back to getting calves the best start possible. You never have a second chance to a good start,” says do Amaral.