The foundation of every dairy cow's performance in the milking herd begins at birth. Emerging data suggests early life nutrient intake - how calves are fed prior to weaning - has long-term implications for future productivity and profitability. Dr. Mike Van Amburgh of Cornell University has conducted several studies with dairy calves and heifers that confirm feeding a high-quality, high-protein diet, alongside astute management, sets calves up for a lifetime of success.
Dr. Van Amburgh recommends the following as important steps in raising calves for peak lifetime performance and profitability:
Provide high-quality colostrum right away. It's no secret: colostrum still remains the essential foundation of a calf-rearing program. Research shows calves not properly fed ample colostrum in a timely manner have a lower average daily gain, experience delayed time to first calving and produce less milk and milk fat during their first lactation.
Provide more than the minimum requirements. When we feed calves to supply nutrients above maintenance requirements, we are setting the calf up to be a better lifetime milk producer. A high-energy, high-protein diet through liquid feeds (milk) and starter grain can help calves reach their growth potential and meet herd goals of doubling weight by eight weeks of age.
Following Dr. Van Amburgh's suggestions can result in positive, profitable results. Studies have found that calves fed an accelerated growth program produce an additional 1,700 pounds of milk in the first lactation. Even with the increased cost of feeding in an intensive rearing program, this can translate to an additional $231 per animal financial advantage for the dairy producer (at $18/cwt milk).
Healthier animals, earlier breeding and more lifetime milk production: enhanced calf and heifer growth just makes sense.
To learn more about the health and economic benefits of accelerated calf growth, click here to register for the upcoming DCHA Webinar with Dr. Mike Van Amburgh titled: "Back to Basics: Health & Economics of Accelerated Heifer Growth" on Tuesday, June 7, at 1 p.m. CDT.
Always consult with your veterinarian for specific recommendations for your operation. Refer to DCHA Gold Standards I for growth rate, colostrum and nutrition guidelines.
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