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Jersey nutrition: Small size doesn’t mean small appetite

Tom Earleywine for Progressive Dairyman Published on 24 May 2017
Jersey calves have aggressive appetites

As the saying goes, good things come in small packages. This is especially true when it comes to raising Jersey calves. Just because they are small in stature doesn’t mean we should short-change Jersey calves on nutritional intake.

Time and time again, we see the benefits of feeding more nutrition to young calves. Research shows improved average daily gain and first-lactation milk production from calves fed a high level of nutrition pre-weaning.



Take advantage of these benefits by feeding a high level of nutrition diet tailored to your Jersey calves.

Nutrition levels

Jerseys have a reputation for having aggressive appetites and, as a result, they may consume a higher percentage of their bodyweight than other breeds. The ideal feeding level is 2 quarts three times a day for the first week and at least 2.25 to 3 quarts three times a day with 1.8 pounds or more of milk solids until weaning.

While feeding calves three times a day is recommended, the first week is especially critical for Jersey calves because of their body size and lower intake. If you must feed twice daily, space the feedings at 12-hour intervals and feed 2.5 to 3 quarts at each feeding to start and work them up to 3.25 to 3.5 quarts twice daily.

Also, consider feeding a Jersey-specific milk replacer with a higher fat percentage (minimum of 22 percent). Unlike Holsteins, who need a lower-fat milk replacer in the summer to increase starter intake, Jersey calves will continue to have good starter intake and optimal performance when fed a high-fat milk replacer year-round.

Seasonal feeding

One point to remember when feeding Jersey calves is their surface-area-to-body-mass ratio is much greater than in other breeds, meaning they have more skin area exposed to the outside environment and are more likely to lose heat in cold temperatures.


And because of their smaller body mass, Jersey calves can have challenges with heat loss even in the summer due to wet bedding, damp conditions or cold nights

To combat heat loss, increase nutrition levels by adding a third feeding each day during cold weather and times of stress. If you are already feeding three times a day, increase the volume of each feeding to ensure you are feeding at least 28 percent of the calf’s bodyweight or about 2 gallons daily.

Importance of starter

In addition to milk nutrition, starter can help provide needed energy to Jersey calves to help regulate body heat loss. A high-energy starter can also support an increase in feed intake and weight gain. Provide calves a handful of starter on day one and continue to increase amounts according to consumption.

Calf bottles

When feeding starter feed, it’s also important to keep in mind Jersey calves are more sensitive to copper toxicity than other breeds. While copper is an important part of a balanced diet and necessary for normal muscle development, make sure you aren’t over-supplementing copper.


When it comes to feeding Jersey calves, the perception is: Calves are too small to consume a high level of nutrition. This may be true for the first week of life, when Jersey calves tend to drink less than their counterparts, considering Holstein calves may be 40 pounds heavier than Jersey calves at birth. But after the first week of life, Jersey calves will usually drink as much or more than Holstein calves.


Many people also assume because of their small size, feeding higher amounts of nutrition will cause calves to scour. In general, the more you feed calves, the more loose manure they will have. But this doesn’t necessarily mean they are scouring.

It may just be an increase in liquid manure due to the higher amounts of milk nutrition consumed. Look for other signs of sickness and dehydration, such as sunken eyes and lethargic behavior, to evaluate whether loose manure is a sign of scours or a natural result of an increased volume of nutrition.

Jersey calves may be small, but feeding a high level of nutrition can provide big results. Ask your calf and heifer specialist for more information on Jersey-specific feeding programs and the impact of feeding higher levels of nutrition.  end mark

PHOTO 1: Jersey calves have aggressive appetites and consume a higher percentage of their bodyweight than other breeds.

PHOTO 2: Feed 2.25 to 3 quarts three times a day with at least 1.8 pounds of milk solids for a high level of nutrition diet. Photos provided by Land O’Lakes Animal Milk Products.

Tom Earleywine
  • Tom Earleywine

  • Director of Nutritional Services
  • Land O’Lakes
  • Email Tom Earleywine

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