REARING DAIRY CALVES

SPRAYFO 8-10 WEEKS

Gradual weaning to allow for adequate calf rumen development

SPRAYFO 8-10 WEEKS

Gradual weaning to allow for adequate calf rumen development

A step-down weaning programme for dairy calves improves dry feed intake after weaning

Intensive milk feeding programs for calves require more time for adequate rumen development and therefore a gradual weaning process is needed. You should reduce milk feeding over a period of 3-4 weeks and not stop feeding milk earlier than 10 weeks of age. Such a programme improves dry feed intake before and after weaning. Adding forage plays a key role in supporting rumen development and health. Finally, offering clean, fresh water ad-libitum is essential.

To prepare for weaning at 10 weeks, start to reduce milk intake gradually from 7 weeks onwards. Feed milk once a day only during the last week before you finally stop feeding milk. Adding stress factors such as de-budding, moving animals, changing solid feed etc. should be avoided around the time of weaning and the period immediately afterwards.

Weaning; who's choice is leading?

Young calves require milk because their digestive system works like the digestive system of a monogastric animal. The rumen develops over time when the calf starts eating solid feed next to drinking milk. Under natural conditions, suckling calves will wean themselves, but this process takes 3-4 months and is finalised at an age of around 10 months. Dairy calves kept on farm have to make this transition in a much shorter period of time, some farmers even try to wean a calf within one week. This causes a lot of stress and puts pressure on both calf health and performance.

Kim et al[20] weaned Holstein dairy calves at day 42, over a period of one week only and reported that stress indicator levels (haptoglobin) moved up by a factor 10.

How much calf starter must a calf eat before it can be weaned?

Calves like milk a lot. Milk is their feed by nature and it is very nutritious. The nett energy level in milk solids is around 2 times higher than in calf starter feed. This means that for every liter of milk lowered (containing 130-150g milk solids), a calf needs to consume 250 gram of calf starter feed.

Calves drinking 8 liters of milk need to consume more than 2 kg of calf starter per day before the milk provision can be stopped. Many dairy farms do however not monitor calf starter feed intake before weaning. As a result, too many calves do not consume enough calf starter at weaning and loose part of their growth potential as result of a poor weaning transition.

Review your farm performance

Working on, or managing a dairy farm is a challenging task; day-to-day routines demand most of your time. Are your operating procedures well set? Do you get the most out of your work? Tough questions if you don't have any reference at hand.

That is why we are now offering you a simple tool which gives you feedback based on results from fellow farmers around the world. It can help you find opportunities for even better results.

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