Right from the calf’s first moments of life, the right approach to feed is crucial for securing a high growth rate.
You need to start the process of feeding for a high growth rate straight after birth: the calves should receive at least 4 litres (or 10% of body weight) of high quality colostrum during first two hours in life. For the first three days, the diet should contain largely colostrum and transition milk, with fresh, clean water being present at all times. It’s a good idea to make dry foods available right from the start. How fast she grows will depend on how fast the rumen develops, which in turn depends on how soon the calves can be weaned; but not before they are ready. The milk feeding level and programme should always be adjusted to calf weight, health and climatic conditions.
A healthy calf will have a large appetite towards the end of her first week, and by feeding her milk freely – let her drink as much as she wants – you will maintain the calf’s vigour and ensure that she grows at a rapid rate. A good milk replacer will also cover the nutritional needs of the calf during this phase. Make sure she gets regular small portions of fresh and tasty concentrate during this period.
High-quality starter and hay should be introduced at the start of week two. Up to the first month correct feeding and care should see the animal gaining over 700g per day. You should provide a well-balanced post-weaning ration with a good proportion of protein and energy.
High levels of milk feeding (12 litres/day) in the beginning allows calves to reach their full growth potential (>1kg per day) during their first six months. If the calf consumes only the energy required for maintenance, there is no energy available for growth. Faster growth rates can be achieved with larger portions as long as the amount is built up gradually to avoid diarrhoea.
Lost growth in this period will mean the calf always stays behind, eventually resulting in later calving and a lower-yielding cow. During the first year the calf builds up its musculoskeletal structure and for this extra protein is needed. If the percentage of protein is low relative to the percentage of energy, the heifer calf can grow small, fat and podgy; it is unlikely to achieve high rates of milk production.
Of course, this is generalized feeding advice and does not take into account specific cases.
And much of the success of an intensive rearing programme really boils down to four factors: animal health, diet, housing and hygiene. You’ll find the key points covered in greater detail in the Calf Management Booklet, available free online at http://www.delaval.com/en/-/Dairy-knowledge-and-advice/Calf-management/