The post-weaning period is one of the most challenging times for calves. And, it's a challenge for dairy producers no matter what part of the country they are located in, says Nick Stagg, calf and heifer specialist with Land O'Lakes Purina Feed.

Holstein calf Not only are calves introduced to a new diet – typically they move from a high protein calf starter to a high roughage total mixed ration (TMR); but they are also introduced to a new housing arrangement that comes with its own set of stressors. Each calf has to learn where and how to eat through headlocks as well as sort out the new social hierarchy with her pen mates. All of these issues combine to cause great stress on the calf. However, new research is showing there are steps that dairy producers can take to better prepare their calves for this period of time and possibly even skip the growth slump altogether.

"In most instances preparation in the key to success - weaning calves is no different," says Stagg. "In the case of calves, developing rumen papillae is the key to getting calves ready for weaning." Papillae are the finger-like projections inside the rumen that are responsible for absorbing digested nutrients. Once nutrients are absorbed through the papillae they are transferred into the bloodstream to be metabolized further and aid in growth. More papillae mean more nutrients absorbed and improved growth rates.

What the calf eats directly correlates with papillae growth. High roughage diets are not optimal to grow papillae as they produce acetate which is does not promote growth. Butyrate or butyric acid is known to better stimulate papillae growth.

To achieve optimal rumen papillae growth, it is recommended to feed 10 pounds of a rapidly fermentable feed, such as AMPLI-Calf® Grower. Research trials from Land O'Lakes Purina Feed LongView Research Farm show that calves fed a highly fermentable calf starter had an increase of 70 pounds more gain, 1.2 inches greater growth height and 4.7 inches greater growth in length compared to control calves. Study results also indicated a 118 percent increase in beneficial growth in rumen papillae length, a 3 percent feed-to-grain ratio and an average daily gain advantage of 29 percent at 24 weeks of age.

Land O'Lakes Purina Feed For more information on how to skip the growth slump contact your local Land O'Lakes Purina Feed representative or go to: