Conversations about calf feeding often focus on the liquid portion of the diet, either milk or milk replacer, but calf starter is an important part of the equation, too. All four farms in our December Round Table article, “These farms are committed to calf care,” offer starter free choice to their dairy calves starting at a young age.
Darcy Steffes, who farms with her parents and husband near Elizabeth, Ill., offers her calves a handful of texturized calf starter beginning at 3 days of age. “The grain is replaced daily so it is fresh, and they are gradually offered more as their intake increases,” Steffes explained.
Her goal is for calves to be eating 1.5 pounds of starter by 4 weeks of age. She said they feed calves their milk in bottles for three weeks before transitioning to pails, and this helps improve their starter intake. Water is also fed once a day to help promote rumen development.
At Whitetail Valley Dairy near Waupaca, Wis., calves first receive starter at two days of age in a smaller bowl. The bowl is switched out for a pail at 2 or 3 weeks of age, when the calf is eating greater volumes of starter.
Ruth Trinrud and her daughter, Jensen, head up calf care at the farm. They shared that every other morning, the calf starter bowls are emptied, and young calves receive new grain. “This helps keep the starter fresh for every calf so that they are more likely to eat it,” Jensen Trinrud explained. Their calves also have access to water all day long.
Neither farm feeds forage prior to weaning, and that was the same protocol for the other two farms in the article, Rocky Creek Dairy in Olin, N.C., and Sleepers Ridge Holsteins in Horseheads, N.Y. To learn more about calf feeding and care on these four farms, check out the Round Table article found in the December issue of Hoard’s Dairyman.