Current Progressive Dairy digital edition
Advertisement

Counting calories for calves

Curt Cupp Published on 17 January 2014

In my dairy farm travels, I find that dairymen have become very well-versed in their lactating herd’s nutrition awareness and many times can even tell me their diet’s estimate of undegraded intake protein. Herds today are very well fed.

They have to be fed right to be profitable. However, I find it interesting that when I walk around the side of the barn and pass by the calf hutches, many times the calves seem thin to me. This is regardless of the feed company or nutrition consultant used.

advertisement

advertisement

I am convinced that many dairymen and calf raisers simply don’t know the solids requirements of young calves in terms of protein and total calorie intake needs. This isn’t done out of wanton neglect but perhaps because of lack of practical applied information.

After all, dairymen don’t get a daily TMR report on their milk-fed calves. This thought process recently prompted me to revisit some basic math applications pertaining to calves consuming whole milk (or milk replacer), calf starter feeding and the weaning process.

Holstein cow milk is 87 percent water, and of the 13 percent solids, it contains 3.1 percent protein, 3.6 percent milk fat and 4.8 percent lactose on average. I grew up on my father’s dairy farm feeding the calves 1 gallon of milk (8.6 pounds) per calf daily.

A calf that would weigh 86 pounds would then be getting 10 percent of its bodyweight as milk daily. I fed an 18 percent calf starter and began to wean calves when they were consuming 1.5 pounds of dry feed daily. Water must always be free-choiced to promote calf starter intake.

The basics:
8.6 pounds whole milk x 3.1 percent protein = 0.27 pounds of protein from whole milk

advertisement

1.5 pounds calf starter x 18 percent protein = 0.27 pounds of protein from calf starter

Is it coincidence that the protein intakes equalized each other at the beginning of the weaning process? If the concern for improving early calf performance is justified, it may have to do more with the milk solids quantity and quality that is being fed, relative to when weaning occurs.

It should be noted that we weaned our calves over the course of a week by offering the calf 2 quarts of milk once daily. The total intake of protein daily at the start of the weaning process was 0.54 pounds, but calves do not double their intakes of dry feed overnight if milk feeding is abruptly stopped.

Ideally, a gradual weaning is nutritionally more correct in my opinion, so that dry feed intake has a chance to catch up. This would typically take a maximum of two weeks, with five-day step-down milk feeding reductions (see Table 1 )

gradual weaning is nutritionally more correct in my opinion, so that dry feed intake has a chance to catch up. This would typically take a maximum of two weeks, with five-day step-down milk feeding reductions

The beef industry does this naturally, as brood cows typically peak in milk production in late spring and drop down low in late fall, when the calves are then typically weaned. The calf’s intake of milk is reduced slowly and consistently through the summer months, as other feed intake increases.

advertisement

It is true that beef weaning is stressful, but not so much because of nutrition as that of environment in the calf having been removed from its brood-cow mother.

Let’s look at the math of whole milk and the solids content of the popular 20-20 milk replacers. The feeding rates are based upon 1 gallon Holstein whole-cow milk protein and calorie equivalents per head daily as a minimum feeding rate.

Milk replacers can supply the same total solids as whole milk but generally not the same nutrition, as milk replacers are generally higher in ash and carbohydrate fractions than that of the equivalent weight of dehydrated powdered whole milk (see Table 2 ).

Milk replacers can supply the same total solids as whole milk but generally not the same nutrition, as milk replacers are generally higher in ash and carbohydrate fractions than that of the equivalent weight of dehydrated powdered whole milk

Now that the winter is upon us, calorie needs increase approximately 10 percent for every 10-degree drop in temperatures below 50°F. Thus, at temperatures near 0°F, calorie needs are increased by nearly 50 percent over thermoneutral climate situations.

It is my belief that the opportunity for improved early calf performance must first come from the correct feeding of milk or milk replacers from a nutrients standpoint. We are fighting Mother Nature, and to do so otherwise in the weaning process, we jeopardize calf survivability.

I have created a downloadable Excel spreadsheet available entitled “ Calf Milk Solids Nutrient Calculator and Batching Formulator .” The spreadsheet targets correct milk solids feeding, whether you feed whole milk or milk replacer, based on inputs from the user.

Your calves can now have their own pseudo-TMR report to aid in correctly feeding milk solids as based on calf weight, environment and their milk replacer tag analysis. PD

Curt Cupp

Curt Cupp
Registered Animal Specialist
Bovine Consulting Services


LATEST BLOG

LATEST NEWS