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Sam Leadley: They do great until I wean them

Sam Leadley Published on 29 April 2013


The author of this post, Sam Leadley, is a calf and heifer management consultant with Attica Veterinary Clinic in Attica, New York. Leadley blogs about calf care issues at



Well, I’m back in the U.S. at the Attica Vet Clinic. But my head is still in Haverfordwest, Wales, at the farmer meeting last Friday.

Six different farmers appeared to have the same problem. Their calves were growing well until they were weaned. Then at weaning they seemed to stop growing or maybe even lose weight.

What did they have in common? Three were spring block-calving herds that fed nearly ad-lib milk up to 8 to 10 quarts of milk a day. Three were continuous calving herds with automatic computer feeders feeding at least 8 quarts of milk powder a day. The calves were getting a lot of nutrients from milk!

All six had observed that while on a full-milk ration their calves began eating starter grain only when four or five weeks of old. And, even then, they did not eat much grain.

We spent a few minutes reviewing the processes of rumen development:


  • Special microorganisms are needed in the rumen to ferment a mixture of water and grains, thus digesting both proteins and carbohydrates.
  • Fermentation of grain (or very young grasses) releases butyric acid, leading to the growth of rumen papillae
  • Rumen papillae development takroughly three weeks from when regular grain consumption begins – this provides enough surface to absorb nutrients.

Then we talked about how they weaned their calves off of milk. The blockcalving herds either stopped milk feeding rather abruptly in either one or two days. The computer-feeder herds had a three or four-day step-down weaning period. PD

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