Once-a-day milk feeding could speed up weaning

Changing to once-a-day milk feeding could help beef producers wean dairy origin calves faster while reducing labour costs by up to £10 a calf.

Results from a trial commissioned by Bonanza Calf Nutrition, and carried out by Harper Adams University College, found calves fed milk once a day were weaned 1.9 days earlier with an extra 3.6kg in liveweight, compared to those fed twice a day.

The trial compared two groups of 20 purchased Holstein and Continental cross Holstein bull calves, on average, 20.5 days old. Both groups were individually penned and fed 600g of milk replacer either once or twice a day and offered ad lib weaning concentrates throughout.

bull calf weights chartThe once-a-day group were fed a skim-based milk replacer with whey and butter oil, mixed at 200g per 800ml water. And the twice-a-day group were fed a whey-based milk replacer containing skim and butter oil, mixed at 120g for every 880ml of water at a rate of 2.5 litres twice a day.

Commenting on the results, trial project co-ordinator Simon Marsh said: “Overall the performance of both groups of calves was very good, but the once-a-day calves did do a little bit better. They drank their three litres in a single feed, then rested and weren’t at all hungry later in the day.

“They were also free from nutritional scours, unlike the twice-a-day fed calves, and had increased rumen girth measurements – an indication of improve rumen development, potentially because of their higher (11.5kg) concentrate intake.”

Although feed costs were increased by £4.35 a calf on the once-a-day system, the feed cost for every kg of liveweight gain was lowered by 4.7p. And labour savings were estimated at £10 a calf, in systems where paid labour is needed for calf rearing.

“Provided you use the right skim-based milk replacer product, calf health and performance is excellent with the added bonus that the system releases time for other important stockmanship tasks such as the early identification of disease.”

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