Current Progressive Dairy digital edition

New insights into feeding programs for Jersey calves

Tana Dennis, Xavier Suarez and Kayla Aragona for Progressive Dairy Published on 06 November 2019

Jerseys are the fastest growing population among dairy breeds, and it’s no surprise the industry is hungry for more data on how to better feed and manage them. With respect to feeding Jersey calves, there is still limited information available on nutritional strategies in the first four months of life.

Research from Virginia Tech has suggested that because Jersey calves have a larger surface area-to-body- mass ratio, pre-weaning maintenance energy requirements are roughly 20% greater compared to larger breeds. Jersey calves may also be able to consume more dry matter and energy per unit of bodyweight compared to Holsteins. However, you would still be hard-pressed to find more than 20 peer-reviewed publications on feeding and management strategies specific to Jersey calves. Recently, researchers at Provimi have conducted studies with Jersey bulls and heifers assessing impacts of feeding rate, protein-to- fat ratios and functional fatty acid inclusion in diets on performance and digestibility to 16 weeks of age.



In the first study, diet digestibility at different ages was determined when calves were fed either 1 or 1.5 pounds per day of a 24% crude protein (CP); 17% fat milk replacer (as-fed basis) with or without specific, functional fatty acids (short chain, medium chain, and omega-3) in the milk replacer; and starter. The study was conducted from March to May and August to October of 2018 using 100 calves. For the first eight weeks, calves were managed in individual pens bedded with straw in a naturally-ventilated nursery with no added heat. For the last eight weeks, calves were housed in groups of three to five in covered, outside pens bedded with straw. Digestibility was estimated at 3, 7, 9, 11 and 15 weeks of age.

During the first eight weeks, calves fed the 1 pound rate without functional fatty acids had the least average daily weight gain while other treatments were not different (Table 1).

Performance of Jersey calves in first 8 weeks

From eight to 16 weeks, calves fed functional fatty acids had the greatest average daily weight gain and hip-width change (Table 2).

Performance of Jersey calves from 8 to 16 weeks.


From zero to 16 weeks, calves fed functional fatty acids gained 17 pounds more bodyweight than calves not supplemented with fatty acids. There were no treatment differences in digestibility estimates at week three. However, dry matter (DM), neutral detergent fiber (NDF) and acid detergent fiber (ADF) digestibility estimates were greater in calves fed 1 versus 1.5 pounds of milk replacer post-weaning (Figure 1). Overall, calves fed functional fatty acids had greater digestibility of DM and NDF, which likely resulted in improved weight gain responses.

Digestibility over 16 weeks of age

Click here or on the image above to view it at full size in a new window.

Additional studies with Jerseys at Provimi’s Nurture Research Center investigating fat-to-protein ratios in milk replacer are ongoing. Preliminary data suggests there is little to no advantage to increasing fat from 17% to 23% in a 24% protein formula before weaning regardless of milk replacer feeding rate (1 versus 1.5 pounds per day) when evaluated from 0 to 8 weeks of age. Feed efficiency might improve with a higher-fat milk replacer, particularly in the first 3 weeks of life. However, growth rates from 8 to 16 weeks of age were similar, and frame growth was greater in Jersey calves fed moderate rates of milk replacer (regardless of fat level) compared to high rates of milk replacer.

In summary, feeding high rates of milk replacer can reduce digestibility of starter around and after weaning. In Holsteins, feeding more than 1.5 pounds per day of milk replacer reduces post-weaning digestibility of DM and fiber. In Jersey calves, feeding 1.5 pounds of milk replacer reduced post-weaning digestibility of DM and fiber. A rate of 1 pound per day of milk replacer for a Jersey and a rate of 1.5 pounds per day for a Holstein are approximately the same on a percentage of birthweight basis (roughly 15% of birthweight). Exceeding these feeding rates appears to slow the rate of rumen development, resulting in reduced diet digestibility post-weaning. Additionally, supplementing functional fatty acids improved growth and digestion in Jersey calves, resulting in 17 pounds more bodyweight gain over the first 4 months of life.

Take-home points:

  • Feeding Jersey calves 1.5 pounds of milk replacer powder reduced starter digestibility and did not improve growth to 8 weeks compared to feeding 1 pound of milk replacer powder.
  • Feeding Jersey calves specific, functional fatty acids improved diet digestibility and growth (17 pounds more bodyweight gain) from 0 to 16 weeks of age.  end mark

Xavier Suarez, Ph.D. and Kayla Aragona, Ph.D. are calf and heifer specialists for Provimi.


References omitted but are available upon request. Click here to email an editor.

Tana Dennis
  • Tana Dennis

  • Calf & Heifer Technical Support Specialist
  • Provimi
  • Email Tana Dennis