Current Progressive Dairy digital edition

0609 PD: Facts and fantasies about calf feed

Mark Hill Published on 09 April 2009
Calves dislike feeds with fines – FACT!

Calves do not like fines and will consume more of a coarse feed and gain more bodyweight than if the feed contains a significant amount of fines. Handling of the starters in mixing, moving and bagging the feeds serves to create fines. Homemade-grind and mix calf feeds will not be consumed well, and calf gains will suffer.

Do not feed whole corn – FANTASY!
Calves process corn because it is natural for them to chew the feed as they consume it. Whole corn will support equivalent calf bodyweight gain compared to coarse-cracked, steam-flaked or other processed corn.



Do not replace corn with fibrous feeds – FACT!
The young calf does not have an enzyme system to digest fiber. The immature rumen of the calf is small with very limited capacity. Fermentation of starch produces various volatile fatty acids that stimulate development of the rumen. Fibrous concentrates like soyhulls and wheat midds, or fibrous roughages like hay or cottonseed hulls, will not be digested like starchy grains and can even be so bulky that they limit intake. In any case, bodyweight gains of the calves will be reduced if fibrous feeds are included in calf feeds.

Feed fat or oil seeds to increase energy – FANTASY!
Fat contains more energy than grains. When fat is added to a calf feed, the feed has a greater energy density than a similar feed without fat. However, adding fat to calf feeds has been shown to reduce feed intake and rarely results in improvements in bodyweight gains of calves.

Most feeds are missing an essential fatty acid – FACT!
Starters are naturally low in one of the essential fatty acids – linolenic acid. An “essential” fatty acid cannot be synthesized by the calf and is required for certain metabolic functions; thus it is termed “essential.” Supplementing starters with linolenic acid has been shown to improve average daily gain and feed efficiency in a cost-effective manner.

This information relative to ingredients and calf performance is based on multiple expert-reviewed research published in scientific journals. Some of this information has been published for over 50 years! PD

References omitted but are available upon request at


Mark Hill
Ruminant Nutrition and
Research for Akey