Rethinking Cattle Performance: 7 steps to better calf nutrition

Good calf nutrition is an essential ingredient to kick-start good animal performance.

Richard Vecqueray, EBVC

© BillyPix

The first three months of life is a crucial stage for a heifer that will determine its subsequent performance once in milk. 

Independent vet Richard Vecqueray of Evidence Based Veterinary Consultancy (EBVC) spoke at Farmers Weekly’s second Rethinking Cattle Performance workshop, where he gave rearers top tips on feeding a newborn heifer. 

See also: Watch the video on how to use a refractometer to test colostrum quality

Top tips

1 Colostrum should be fed:

Quickly: As soon as the calf is born and can lift its head. If you leave it longer gut absorption of immunoglobulins begins to decline and the calf is more likely to ingest harmful bacteria that it won’t be protected against.

Quantity: Feed 8.5% of its body weight. For example, if it weighs 40kg feed 3.4litres and repeat six hours later. However, you can get away with feeding less (two litres) if calves are teat-fed good-quality, tested colostrum, because immunoglobul in absorption is improved.

Quality: Use a colostrometer or refractometer to test the colostrum quality beforehand (link to video).

2 Feed amounts

In week one calves should be fed at least 600g of powder per day and this should increase to 1kg by three weeks at the latest. CMR quality and good, consistent mixing techniques are key to achieving this (see step 4 and 5).

3 Weighing

Weigh calves regularly to ensure they are hitting daily liveweight gain targets of 0.8kg and are on track to calve down at two years.

4 Feed a good-quality calf milk replacer

There is no difference between whey or skim but generally better-quality powders with higher crude protein levels will accelerate lean growth. If you are getting issues with bloat it may be worth speaking to your vet and reviewing the sodium and crude ash levels of your powder.

5 Weigh milk powder

Weigh milk powder to ensure you are feeding the correct amount and mix well with 40C water. If it’s too hot it will denature the proteins. Aim to feed to calves at 38C.

6 Good-quality starter pellet

Provide a good-quality starter pellet from a week old (good ones contain rape, soya and quality cereals) and ad-lib straw.

7 Water

Provide fresh, clean water ad-lib too.

Thanks to ABP, Zoetis and Volac, whose sponsorship made it possible to run this Rethinking Cattle Performance workshop. Farmers Weekly had full editorial control of this article.

Sponsors’ message

“ABP, Volac and Zoetis are committed to supporting UK cattle farmers in running enterprises that produce healthier, more productive animals.

Part of this commitment means working with organisations such as Farmers Weekly on initiatives such as the ‘Rethinking Cattle Performance’ campaign, to offer farmers the opportunity to learn from experts and their peers about the best ways to produce cattle, and particularly calves, as efficiently as possible.

Find an event near you

Farmers Weekly is running two more Rethinking Cattle Performance workshops. Find out more on the  Rethinking Cattle Performance website.