Dairy steer calf milk feeding programs

Dairy steer calves row more rapidly and more profitably under accelerated milk feeding programs under current market situation.

Conventional feeding of bull calves typically involves mixing .5 to one pound of a 20:20 milk replacer powder with two quarts of water and fed twice daily until weaned at eight weeks of age. Producers should understand that this provides significantly less nutrition than the calf would consume in nature being able to nurse ad libitum. Sucking calves will consume 16-24 percent of their body weight on a liquid basis of milk that is 27 percent protein and 30 percent fat. Feeding a conventional regime provides 10 percent of the body weight for an 80 pound calf, but only 8 percent for a 100 pound calf. Under ideal conditions, calves can grow at acceptable rates at a feeding rate of 10 percent but with little margin for unfavorable conditions associated with cold, stress or sickness. Most of the nutrients under this feeding method is used for maintenance with little energy and protein available for growth. Consequently, conventional feeding offers a slower rate of growth. 

Many heifer growers have implemented accelerated feeding to achieve higher growth rates while improving calf health. There are many versions of the accelerated program that include increasing consumption by 2-2.5 fold, using higher protein milk replacers (22-26  percent) and feeding lower fat milk replacers (less than 15 percent). Feeding regimes using higher volume consumption of milk replacer with higher protein concentrations can lower fat content of the powder without sacrificing lean tissue gain or hindering consumption of starter grain mix. 

Accelerated feeding programs increase calf growth, improve feed efficiency and usually improve health status of the calf. Accelerated feeding programs will increase feed costs, but those costs should be offset with improved performance, especially given the current value of weaned calves. 

Another feeding regime includes milk replacer feeding with strong encouragement of starter grain mix consumption within a few days. The key aspect to developing an early weaning program revolves around rumen development through the consumption of grain. Early consumption of grain allows for rumen development so that calves can be weaned onto a grain starter mix at four weeks of age. Weaning can occur once calves are consistently consuming 1.5- two pounds of grain mix per day usually between four to six weeks of age. 

Compiled research data found in table one shows a comparison of calf performance under three different feeding regimes. This article assumes that most of the national data falls under a conventional feeding system. The data indicates that the cost of gain is lower using an early weaning system at $.63 per pound of gain. The accelerated feeding system has much higher feed costs associated than the other two systems; however, the improved performance offers an advantage over the national average. Table  two applies economic value to the performance data and indicates that the accelerated feeding programs are more profitable than the other two systems, followed by the early weaning program. 

Management of calves is critical regardless of feeding regime. Calves should have access to water within a couple days of age. Calves need four pounds of water per pound of dry feed consumed. Limiting water will reduce starter feed consumption. Starter grain mix must be accurately formulated at 18-22 percent protein and be in a highly palatable form. The mix should be in pellet form or coarsely ground with few fines. For more information regarding milk feeding programs for dairy steer calves, contact me, Michigan State University Extension ruminant educator at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) or 906-884-4386. 

Table one: Calf performance from accelerated feeding regimes.

Data compiled by Howard Tyler, Iowa State University, Managing and Marketing Quality Holstein Steers Proceedings, 2005.

Variable

National Average

Accelerated

Early Weaning

Birth weight, lb

95

95

87

Weaning age, days

56

56

31

ADG, lb

0.98

2.10

1.50

8-week weight, lb

150

212

165

Milk replacer intake, lb

64

121

30

Starter intake, lb

74

45

130

Gain: feed ratio

0.40

0.70

0.49

Milk replacer cost, $/hd

70.00

121.00

25.00

Starter cost, $/hd

13.00

9.00

24.00

Total feed cost, $/hd

67.00

130.00

49.00

Feed cost, $/ lb of gain

1.20

1.12

0.63

Table two: Calf value as compared to feed cost and purchase price. 

National Average

Accelerated

Early Weaning

Purchase cost, $/hd

480.00

480.00

480.00

End weight, lb

150

212

165

Total gain, lb

55

117

78

Feed cost to 8 wk, $/hd

66.00

131.04

49.14

Feed and purchase cost, $/hd

546.00

611.04

529.14

Breakeven price to cover cost of feed and calf, $/lb

3.64

2.88

3.21

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