Research has been piling up for nearly 20 years that the old mantra of one pound of regular replacer powder per calf per day does little more than just keep them alive – and that's if the weather is ideal; when the weather is nasty, it can actually help kill them.

The latest layer of compelling evidence comes from Michael Van Amburgh at Cornell University (pictured here). Lower mortality, less disease, faster rate of gain, earlier breeding, less culling, and more lifetime milk production are just some of the payoffs to aggressive feeding of calves prior to weaning. Cornell has used such a program for many years in its own herd and now has calf feeding and lactation data on over 1,200 head.

"When we evaluated the 450 animals that had completed a third lactation, we found a lifetime milk effect of preweaning average daily gain of over 6,000 pounds of milk depending upon preweaning growth rates," he says. "This suggests that colostrum status and nutrient intake and/or preweaning growth rate have a greater effect on lifetime milk yield, and account for more variation and progress in milk yield associated with the management of the calf than genetic selection. Generally, milk yield will increase 150 to 300 pounds per lactation due to selection, whereas the effect of management is three to five times that."

"The bottom line is, there is a positive economic outcome to improving the management of our calf and heifer programs starting at birth," he adds.