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A case study for using quality calf feeds

Tana Dennis and Mark Hill for Progressive Dairyman Published on 28 February 2019

Have you ever wondered how valuable feeding a high-quality feed was on calf performance and the impact on your cost of production? We assembled a controlled research study to address this practical topic that was recently published in the Journal of Dairy Science.

The study

One hundred and ninety-two calves were fed two types of milk replacer, two milk replacer feeding rates and two types of starters. Treatment hierarchy is outlined in Figure 1.

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Study treatment hierarchy in the nursery period (day 0 to 56)

The milk replacers used were 26 percent protein and 16 percent fat (as-fed basis) and either based on all-milk protein sources or milk protein sources with 10 percent egg yolk as an alternative fat and protein ingredient.

The milk replacer rates were a moderate rate of 0.68 kilogram of powder daily for 42 days or a higher rate of up to 1.1 kilograms of powder daily for 49 days.

This resulted in calves consuming 26 kilograms of milk replacer powder on the moderate-rate program and 47 kilograms of milk replacer powder on the higher-rate program.

The starter types were a textured starter based on whole corn, whole oats and a soybean meal-based protein pellet (20 percent protein, 38 percent starch as-fed), and a completely pelleted starter high in soybean hulls, wheat midds, limited corn and soybean meal (20 percent protein, 9 percent starch as-fed).

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Calves were raised in a naturally ventilated nursery in 32-square-foot pens bedded with straw for 56 days. From 56 to 112 days, calves were grouped by milk replacer rate and starter type (combining milk replacer types) into multiple pens of calves.

Starters were blended with low-quality chopped grass hay at 5 percent of the diet. The study was conducted in western Ohio, beginning in January and finishing in September, and used Holstein calves initially 3 to 4 days old.

Nursery growth (zero to 56 days)

After the first 56 days, calves fed the all-milk protein-based milk replacer gained 3.6 kilograms more and were structurally larger (12 percent more hip width growth) compared to calves fed the milk replacer with egg yolk.

Calves fed the high-milk-replacer rate gained 8.6 kilograms more and were more conditioned compared to calves fed the moderate rate of milk replacer. Calves fed the high-starch, textured starter gained 3.6 kilograms more than calves fed the low-starch, pelleted starter.

Post-weaning growth (56 to 112 days)

During the next 56 days of the study, calves previously fed the moderate rate of milk replacer with a high-starch, textured starter gained more bodyweight and frame than calves previously fed the higher rate with either high- or low-starch calf starter.

An interesting note is: Calves fed a moderate rate of milk replacer with a low-starch calf starter were the lightest and had the least frame growth at the end of the study.

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Overall growth to 4 months old

At the conclusion of the study, calves fed the high rate of milk replacer with a high-starch starter and calves fed the moderate rate of milk replacer with a high-starch starter gained similar amounts of weight (91 versus 89 kilograms) and had a similar frame size (Table 1).

Overall (0 to 4 months) calf performance for the feeding programs

When evaluating milk replacer rate across both starter starch levels, calves fed the higher rate of milk replacer gained 7.3 kilograms more bodyweight (but at a similar frame size) than calves fed the moderate rate of milk replacer.

Feed efficiency of the programs were the same despite the larger amount of more digestible milk replacer being fed via the high-milk-replacer program.

When evaluating level of starch across both milk replacer feeding rates, calves fed the high-starch, textured starter gained 13.6 kilograms more bodyweight and 1.3 centimeters more hip width than calves fed the low-starch, pelleted starter.

Feed efficiency was 12 percent better for calves fed the high- versus low-starch program.

Cost of the programs

Table 2 outlines the estimated feed costs for feeding programs tested in this study.

Overall (0 to 4 months) costs of the feeding programs

The milk replacer formulated with egg yolk was 34 cents less per kilogram ($7.86 less per 22.7-kilogram bag), and the calves consumed 3.6 kilograms less starter per calf, lowering feed costs by $14.41 per calf over the first 56 days.

However, feed cost per kilogram of bodyweight gain was $4.58 for the all-milk protein milk replacer and $4.61 for the egg yolk-containing milk replacer.

Calves fed the high-milk-replacer program consumed 20.9 kilograms more milk replacer, which increased costs $68 per calf compared to the moderate program. Cost of bodyweight gains were $2.80 per kilogram for the high-milk-replacer program and $2.45 per kilogram for the moderate-milk-replacer program over four months.

Calves fed the high-starch program consumed 13.6 kilograms more starter, which increased feed costs $21.62 per calf. Cost of bodyweight gains were $2.45 per kilogram for high-starch and $2.56 per kilogram for low-starch starters.

When evaluating costs of the individual feeding programs, calves fed the moderate rate of milk replacer with a high-starch starter had the lowest cost per kilogram of bodyweight gain at $2.13 per kilogram.

Calves fed the high rates of milk replacer regardless of starter composition had the highest total feed costs ($234 to $252 per calf) and highest costs of bodyweight gain ($2.77 to $2.83 per kilogram of weight gain).

Big picture

Feeding a high-starch calf starter had a greater impact on overall calf growth to 4 months old than feeding a high rate of milk replacer.

The two high-starch programs resulted in 13.6 kilograms more bodyweight gain (17 percent improvement) than the low-starch programs, while the two high-milk-replacer programs resulted in 6.8 kilograms more bodyweight gain (9 percent improvement) than the moderate programs.

Additionally, high-starch, textured calf starters are less expensive to feed and easier to implement in a feeding program than feeding high rates of milk replacer.  end mark

Mark Hill is in ruminant nutrition and research, Provimi North America. Email Mark Hill 

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

Tana Dennis
  • Tana Dennis

  • Calf and Heifer Nutritionist
  • Provimi North America
  • Email Tana Dennis

Take-home points

 

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