SHOREVIEW, Minn. — Feeding calves the correct amount of
grain can be a challenge.
Many calf raisers work with hundreds of calves that may vary
in age from one day to 12 weeks old — all of which have different nutritional
One challenge with managing large calf groups of varying age
and size is that they don’t all eat the same amount of calf starter. There is a
delicate balance between avoiding overfeeding calf starter to younger calves
while not letting older calves run out.
That’s according to Christie Underwood, a calf and heifer
specialist with Purina Animal Nutrition in Texas.
It is important for calf feeders to be aware of how much
calves eat at varying stages of life to avoid wasting feed and to help improve
calf growth performance.
According to Underwood, keeping calf starter and water fresh
and readily available are vital to maintaining optimal calf growth.
Within the first two weeks of life, calves often consume
very little calf starter and are more dependent upon liquid nutrition.
“One common mistake I see on-farm is that calf feeders tend
to offer a large amount of feed to young calves,” Underwood said.
Ideally, calf starter should be changed every day and old
feed should be discarded. Unfortunately, this doesn’t always happen and uneaten
calf starter goes to waste.
This also may interfere with calf starter consumption
because the starter becomes stale. Stale calf starter may look OK to eat, but is
no longer palatable.
To put it into perspective, Underwood compares stale feed to
a cracker that has been left out.
“It may look just like the crackers left in the package, but
it will not taste good after a day or two,” she said.
According to Underwood, by the time calves reach three to
four weeks old, noticeable increases in calf starter intake should be seen.
During this timeframe, it is important that employees
monitor feed intake closely, as this increase often can go unnoticed and calf
growth could be hindered due to inadequate nutrition.
Calf feeders should pay attention to how much feed is left.
If calves are finishing their feed on a regular basis, then their daily
allotment should be increased.
By the time calves reach weaning age, they should be
consuming higher amounts of calf starter.
Underwood points out that calf starter intake may even
double. Employees need to be aware of potential spikes in consumption and be
ready to meet calves’ increased appetite.
After calves are weaned, they rely on complete feeds as
their sole source of nutrition.
“Some operations that I work with leave calves in a hutch or
pen for up to 12 weeks of age,” Underwood said.
Once calves reach 12 weeks old, these calf raisers begin
introducing a calf grower feed so that their calves can transition more easily
to a diet higher in fiber.
As calves continue to grow, starter consumption increases
significantly. It is important to not limit intake at this stage of development.
It also is important not to let calves go periods of time
without starter. Some animals may slug feed when feed does become available and
this could lead to bloat.
To help achieve optimal growth, calf starter always should
be fresh, dry and readily available. By working closely with calf feeders,
over-consumption and under-consumption of feed can be prevented, Underwood
Doing so can allow calves to get the most out of the
nutrients provided them so that they are able to keep growing and become
productive cows with greater profit potential.
For more information, contact Underwood at (806) 640-8045 or
CMUnderwood@landolakes.com or visit www.amplicalf.com.