0800 692 655 | office@everycow.co.nz

Calf Nutrition 101

Calving time is just around the corner yet again, if not already slowly kicking into gear for some farmers with the odd slipped cow! By now we will have our plans in place to be safely calving our cows down and easing them into their productive zone while juggling the demands of the new born calf that we are now rearing.

Nutrition options for our future replacement cows are larger than ever before with the release of new products seemingly every season, but always with the same ethos that we need to get the basics right first to ensure full effect of any supplement we choose to purchase. Your Vet will be able assist you in making the decision as to which rearing strategy best suits your farm as well as advise suitable colostrum management systems that ensure from hour one the calf can gain the antibodies and energy it requires to get up and go so to speak! Take the time to have that conversation as improved systems and nutrition in those few crucial days can make all the difference when your calves are inevitably exposed to different viruses and bacteria.

From there the actual nutritional requirements of the calf remain relatively simple and as always with many options to choose from we need to be able to compare products equally. Quality is of upmost importance when thinking about how we nourish our future herd and there are a few simple measures we can use when making our decisions.

  • Crude Protein- Essential for the muscle and structural development of the calf. Your ideal level when looking at calf meal options is 20%. This can be eased down to 16% once your calves have been weaned off milk and are on grass for at least two weeks
  • Ensure your starter meal does not have PKE in it- the meal needs to have high quality metabolizable protein ingredients such as soya bean or canola. ME should be no less than 12.5
  • Most calf meals on the market are already highly digestible. As it arrives on farm ensure it is fresh- it should smell and taste great! Store it in a cool dry and clean place to help it remain fresh as long as possible
  • Check your meal of choice has a balanced mix of essential vitamins and minerals. Selenium is particularly important for a young growing animal
  • Starch level should be between 30-40%
  • Having a coccidiostat is absolutely essential as it is the calves best form of prevention against coccidiosis

There are some many prebiotic and probiotic products on the market. These can have their place in a system when calves are going to undergo a definite stress- such as being transported for sale at four days old, or if the calf has been unwell they can assist in rebooting rumen function. A lot of the probiotic products on the market also contain rennet which has a positive effect on increasing milk digestibility. This in turn can reduce calf scours from inconsistent feeding or over feeding.

With our entire young stock system needing to be focused on developing their rumen with as little stress as possible on the calf we need to keep in mind that our young calves do not enjoy rapid changes. This applies to the transition both on and off different feeds so patience must be applied! Rearing a calf correct from the start has a long term impact on her potential growth rates, disease susceptibility, reproduction and milk production performance. In a nutshell we simple can not afford to not invest in quality time, systems and nutrition for our future herd!

If you have any questions or would like to discuss further please do not hesitate to contact a Vetlife Vet or one of the team at the Centre for Dairy Excellence regarding our Future Herds program. We are always more than happy to help!

Article as seen in the Real Farmer magazine June 2018

Steph Macfarlane – Centre for Dairy Excellence