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How much milk should dairy calves be fed?

Article ID: 704
Last updated: 18 Jul, 2017
Revision: 3
Views: 1175

Common dairy industry practice is to feed unweaned calves around 10% of calf body weight in milk daily. However, this amount of milk is about half of what calves would typically drink (around 10 litres of milk over 8-12 feeds per day) in the first month of life if a calf were able to suckle from its dam.

Reducing milk intake is intended to encourage the calf to consume solid feed which leads to more rapid rumen development and allows the calf to be weaned off milk more quickly. However, it appears that calves are not able to compensate low milk intake with a higher solid feed intake at such an early age.

Feeding calves more than the traditional quantity – e.g. feeding up to 20% of calf body weight (in milk or equivalent milk solids) instead of 10% daily – has been shown to result in greater feed consumption, body weight gain and structural growth. Further benefits, including improved mammary development and increased milk production, become more apparent later in life. Higher milk allowances also result in less unrewarded visits to the milk feeder. A high number of such unrewarded visits is indicative of hunger. Calves that are hungry will vocalise more and play less than well-fed calves. Frequent visits to feeders will cause frustration if the calf is often not allocated sufficient milk. Increased mortalities may result if calves are fed a limited ration in winter and therefore have limited energy reserves to keep warm. There is no strong evidence that feeding calves large amounts of milk will increase the incidence of clinical diarrhoea, although their feces may be more liquid. Offering calves an amount of milk that they would choose to consume ad libitum will ensure calves are satiated. Potential for poor welfare exists where calves are fed limited milk rations, particularly if the diet is not supplemented with concentrate and/or roughage.

Bibliography

Burgstaller J, Wittek T, Smith GW (2017) Invited review: Abomasal emptying in calves and its potential influence on gastrointestinal disease. Journal of Dairy Science 100:17-15.

Conneely M, Berry DP, Murphy JP et al (2014) Effect of feeding colostrum at different volumes and subsequent number of transition milk feeds on the serum immunoglobulin G concentration and health status of dairy calves. Journal of Dairy Science 97:6991-7000.

Dairy Australia (2011) Rearing Healthy Calves manual. www.dairyaustralia.com.au.

Hulbert LE & Moisá SJ (2016) Stress, immunity, and the management of calves. Journal of Dairy Science 99:3199-3216.

Khan MA, Bach A, Weary DM et al (2016) Invited review: Transitioning from milk to solid feed in dairy heifers. Journal of Dairy Science 99:885-902.

Khan MA,  Weary  DM &  von  Keyserlingk MAG (2011)  Invited  review: Effects  of  milk  ration  on  solid  feed  intake,  weaning  and  performance  in dairy heifers. Journal of Dairy Science 94(3):1071-1081.

Klein-Jobstl D, Iwersen M & Drilich M (2014) Farm characteristics and calf management practices on dairy farms with and without diarrhea: A case-control study to investigate risk factors for calf diarrhea. Journal of Dairy Science 97:5110-5119.

Krachun C, Rushen J & de Passillé AM (2010) Play behaviour in dairy calves is reduced by weaning and by a low energy intake. Applied Animal Behaviour Science 122:71-76.

Miller-Cushon EK, Bergeron R, Leslie KE et al (2014) Competition during the milk-feeding stage influences the development of feeding behavior of pair-housed dairy calves. Journal of Dairy Science 97:6450-6462.

Miller-Cushon EK, DeVries TJ (2015) Invited review: Development and expression of dairy calf feeding behaviour. Canadian Journal of Animal Science 95:341-350.

National Farm Animal Care Council (2016) Code of practice for the care & handling of veal cattle: Review of scientific research on priority issues. NFACC, December 2016.

Rosenberger K, Costa JHC, Neave HW et al (2017) The effect of milk allowance on behavior and weight gains in dairy calves. Journal of Dairy Science 100:504-512.

Silper BF, Lana AMQ, Carvalho AU et al (2014) Effects of milk replacer feeding strategies on performance, ruminal development, and metabolism of dairy calves. Journal of Dairy Science 97:1016-1025.


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