What makes a good calf ration?

With calving commenced on many farms in recent weeks, the importance of correctly feeding the newborn calf cannot be underestimated.

Colostrum is extremely important in the early hours of life, while a good-quality milk replacer – fed at the correct rate – is vital when it comes to giving the calf the best start.

In this article we look at the importance of a calf ration. Whether these heifers will be the backbone of the herd in the future or whether the bull calves will go on into a beef system, the calf ration is essential.

The ration is very important for the physical development of the rumen. Speaking to AgriLand, Joe Naughton – a calf husbandry specialist with J. Grennans and Sons – outlined the importance of this feed.

“It should be introduced at day four or five and it should be kept fresh at all times, keeping it in front of them all the time.

“As a general rule, farmers will introduce a coarse ration initially to get calves started, but farmers sometimes find that there is better intakes on a calf pellet or nut; the nut could be introduced at two-to-three weeks,” he added.

What should I look for?

When choosing a ration, Joe highlighted that looking for cooked material is a good option. However, these materials can be more expensive.

As an example, Joe highlighted the following ingredients: toasted flaked barley; toasted flaked beans; toasted rolled maize; soya; beet pulp; and a good calf mineral.

Ration content:
  • Protein content: 17-18%;
  • Oil content: 3.5%;
  • Fibre: 6-7%;
  • Energy: +0.95 UFL;
  • Ash content: 6%.

Feeding rate

Touching on feeding rate, he said: “Rations can be fed until the calves are consuming 0.5kg – so around two-to-three weeks; they can be then moved onto a calf nut.

“The important thing to aim for is when you are starting to wean calves off milk at seven weeks, it is important that they are eating 1kg of concentrate – this is a key measure.

“From there, they are normally supplemented at 1kg/day at grass – depending on the type of calf. Some farmers won’t pull the ration at all for big ‘black and white’ calves, but farmers with Jersey-cross calves will pull it at four months.”

A plentiful supply of water should be made available to the calves from day one, along with a source of roughage.