Heifers are one of the most valuable assets for a dairy operation. They are the milking herd's future and ultimately determine your business' profitability and longevity.
Research has shown that calf care and nutrition in the preweaning phase are the foundation for raising productive and healthy replacement dairy heifers and can have a significant impact on future growth and milk performance potential.
Setting the stage for long-term success
Calves are born with a naïve immune system, meaning they are more susceptible to disease-causing pathogens that can lead to illness and impact their ability to reach their maximum potential. To ensure your calves are given the greatest chance to reach their maximum potential, consider the following:
- Ensure calves are born in clean, dry and freshly bedded maternity pens. Doing this can help limit your calves’ exposure to these disease-causing pathogens immediately after birth when the immune system is weak.
- Immediately after birth, the calf should be moved to a clean, dry nursery where its navel should be dipped in 7% tincture iodine. The navel is an open cavity and can act like a straw for pathogens to enter the body. By dipping the navel, you are facilitating the closure of that opening, reducing the calf’s pathogen entry points.
- Calves should be fed a volume of high-quality colostrum that is 10% of their body weight within the first 4 hours after birth. For Holsteins, that equals about 1 gallon, and for Jersey calves about 3 quarts. This is extremely vital because when a calf is in utero, they do not obtain antibodies from the cow. The only way they can receive the antibodies is through the passive transfer of immunity from the colostrum. Furthermore, by feeding it within the first few hours, the calf will properly absorb the antibodies necessary to protect them from harmful pathogens in the environment until their own immune system can.
- Once the calf has received colostrum, they should be fed a high plane (2.5 lbs. of dry matter/hd/d) of high-quality milk replacer or milk along with a high-quality starter, followed by a high-quality grower feed after weaning.
Why is this crucial for future milk production performance?
Researchers have identified the unique window of opportunity to influence mammary (parenchyma) growth early in the calf’s life that results in increased milk production as a cow. Providing a higher plane of nutrition in the preweaning phase can promote a higher average daily gain and encourage parenchyma development, which is the foundation for increased milk production at first lactation and subsequent lactations. Research shows that each 0.1 lb. increase in preweaning average daily gain results in 155 lbs. more first lactation milk yield.1 It all comes down to energy partitioning. If a calf is fed well early in life, it can partition its energy toward growth and vital organ development rather than solely for survival.
1 Soberon, F., and Van Amburgh, M. 2013. Lactation biology symposium: The effect of nutrient intake from milk or milk replacer of preweaned dairy calves on lactation milk yield as adults: A meta-analysis of current data. J. Anim. Sci. 91:706–712.
Purina Animal Nutrition LLC (purinamills.com) is a national organization serving producers, animal owners and their families through more than 4,700 local cooperatives, independent dealers and other large retailers throughout the United States. Driven to unlock the greatest potential in every animal, the company is an industry-leading innovator offering a valued portfolio of complete feeds, supplements, premixes, ingredients and specialty technologies for the livestock and lifestyle animal markets. Purina Animal Nutrition LLC is headquartered in Arden Hills, Minn., and is a wholly owned subsidiary of Land O’Lakes, Inc.