Give your replacement heifers the best start: Here’s how…

This year’s calves will be your future milk producers of your herd; so it is paramount that they get the best start in life.

For this to happen; they must be kept on a high plain of nutrition from birth to weaning. Before turn-out, a mixture of whole milk or milk replacer, concentrates and hay/straw should be fed. They should also have access to fresh, clean water daily.

Introducing concentrates

It is vital for rumen development that a calf is offered a source of concentrates from three to five days-of-age. Although, they will only eat a very minimal amount up until about three to four weeks-of-age.

It is best practice to offer a small fresh amount of concentrates each day – to encourage consumption – as it can be difficult to get young calves to eat concentrates that have been sitting in the feeder for more than one day. This is also useful to avoid wastage.

The importance of feeding concentrates:
  • Improved rumen development;
  • Increased daily weight gain;
  • Improved future calf performance;
  • Reduced health issues and mortality.

A course ration should be offered rather than pellets as it is more palatable for the calf. Be sure to check the label before purchasing concentrates; it should have a recommended crude protein of 18% and a minimum energy value of 12 MJ ME/kg of dry matter.

After a few weeks – as intake increases – a pelleted ration can be introduced instead of a course.

Source of fibre

In addition to feeding concentrates; a source of roughage should be introduced to aid rumen development. This is particularly important if a pelleted ration is being fed; as it does not contain as much fibre as a course ration.

Ideally, hay/straw should be introduced at the same time as concentrates. It is important to not feed too much; as this may reduce their intake of concentrates.

The quality of the fibre introduced is also important. Poor quality fibre, or long-stemmed fibre, reduces a calf’s intake; as it is not easily passable through the rumen – so creates a fill effect.

Furthermore, it is vital that calves have continuous access to fresh, clean water. Water is needed to aid fermentation and the development of the rumen.