Pre weaning feeding management – doing it right boosts cow´s life time yield

The often low life time yield per cow in modern dairy production is increasingly getting attention. The high turnover rate of dairy cows is part of the problem and obviously improvement of housing and management aiming at adding another healthy lactation to the cow´s life to boost longevity is the first thing one come to think of.

However, the huge importance of the milk yield in first and second lactation is another part of the solution. As most of us know, young calves have an impressing capacity to ingest large amount of milk or milk replacer resulting in daily weight gains of the large breeds up to 1000 g (~ 2 pounds). But the actual growth rate is often much lower and vary between individual calves.

Many scientific studies during past ten years have documented positive responses of the calf´s productivity as adult cattle when fed greater nutrient intake (often ad lib) from milk or milk replacer prior to weaning. Actually, growth rate pre weaning explains ~ 20 % of the variation in milk yield the first lactation and more than genetic selection!

The story becomes really interesting when the effect of low temperatures in the calf´s environment or diarrhea during her first months only influence her subsequent milk yield during first lactation if the growth rate has been stunted by undernourishment due to energy losses from low ambient temperature or disease. Thus, it is all about growth rate.

Another interesting piece of information is that the amount of colostrums fed to the new born calf apparently has a synergistic effect on growth rate both pre and post weaning! Apparently, feeding high amount of colostrums (4 l) to the newborn calf boosted feed consumption post weaning.

Now studies from Cornell University also have shown that lifetime milk effect can be over 2,200 kg milk higher for the first 3 lactations depending on pre-weaning growth rates.

Similar studies from UK reports on higher life time yield due to fast growing heifers calving at 23 – 25 months of age showing higher survival rates and thus higher life time yield compared to cows calving at 26- 29 months age (22 500 kg vs 20 600 kg and 70 % vs 59% still staying alive after 5 years)

Do you want more productive cows and having them staying longer in the herd?

• Feed high amount of colostrums to new born calves
• Feed high amount milk or milk replacer at least up to 60 days
• Keep the calves healthy with excellent hygiene and climate
• Avoid low ambient temperature pre weaning or compensate with more milk

Interested in more information on how to increase life time yield?

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About Charlotte

Charlotte Hallén Sandgren graduated from veterinary college in Uppsala 1980, and defended her PhD in udder health 1991. She is Dairy Development Director at DeLaval International AB. She has been working with preventive health care in dairy and beef herds for 16 years. As Head of the Animal Welfare department at the Swedish Dairy Association she was responsible for national eradication and control programmes for various contagious diseases; preventive healthcare and welfare assessment schemes in dairy production. She has also worked as part-time Senior lecturer in production animal diseases in cattle, at the Swedish University of Agricultural Science.
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