Consistency and a High Plane of Nutrition are Key to a Profitable Cow in the Parlor

Dec 04, 2020
Have you ever sat down, did some napkin math and figured how much more milk a healthy, consistently growing heifer could be bringing to the parlor during her first lactation? What about how this affects breeding or age at first calving? It’s no surprise that raising replacement heifers is one of the biggest investments on the dairy and an area that should be a priority for the future of your milking herd.
Consistency is Key
According to the Dairy Calf and Heifer Association Gold Standards III, producers looking to maximize the value from their calf raising program should manage to double a calf’s birth weight by the time she reaches 56 days of age and strive towards 1.7-2.0 pounds of gain per day on post-weaned heifers to meet maintenance and growth requirements. Other goals according the Dairy Calf and Heifer Association include less than 3 percent calf mortality, less than 10% incidence of respiratory issues and less than 15 percent of calves receiving treatments for scours and other diseases.
The best way to understand your feeding program and where you are at currently, is to calculate where your total solids are at in your milk program. This should be done whether you are feeding milk replacer or waste milk. A cow’s milk is usually right around 12.5% total solids, so this is a good starting point to determine where you’d like to see your total solids. This can be done by measuring your milk replacer dry matter to the total weight of your mixed milk solution or to utilize a Brix Refractometer on farm to measure the consistency of your waste milk.
In instances of utilizing milk on farm, it’s good to note that depending on where that milk is coming from will determine where the total solids may stand. For instance, milk fat, protein and solids can vary significantly depending on what type of cow the milk is coming from. Saleable whole milk is usually around 12.5% total solids where waste milk varies greatly and can range anywhere between 11-15% total solids. Waste milk could be coming from the hospital group where cows may or may not have been treated with antibiotics, fresh cows that aren’t ready to be put in the tank or even saleable milk. So, measuring total solids is going to be key to helping that calf get the most out of its milk diet. Work with your Calf and Heifer Specialist to ensure that your mix is accurate due to the variation you may see in your total solids.

Total solids greater than 17-18% present a risk of disrupting normal water/electrolyte balance in the calf which in turn causes scours. When total solids are lower than 12%, calves will be hungry and are not consuming enough calories to grow, maintain body temperature or support immune health. This makes it very difficult for the calf to get over any obstacles that she may face in that first month of life resulting in decreased average daily gain.

Feeding a High Plane of Nutrition
Following a feeding program that helps your calves reach their full genetic potential will pay off during first lactation and beyond. According to research done by Dr. Van Amburgh (Van Amburgh et al., 2008), it’s possible that providing calves a higher plane of nutrition preweaning initiates the onset puberty and mammary cell development at a younger age. Earlier development of milk-producing epithelial cells is one possible explanation for the added production during first lactation.

A study conducted at Michigan State (Rincker et al., 2006) compared calves fed a standard 20:20 milk replacer at 1.2 percent of body weight with those fed a 28 percent crude protein, 15 percent fat replacer at 2.1 percent of body weight. Calves fed the 28:15 replacer also were fed a higher protein calf starter to target 1.5 pounds of daily gain prior to weaning. Researchers found that those fed the higher plane of nutrition calved 22 days earlier on average and were projected at 1,100 pounds more milk in the first lactation on a mature equivalent basis.
There are several CMR options available to help you reach your goals. Contact your United Cooperative Feed Sales Specialist to help you find the right fit for your calf program.

David Cramer

Filed Under: DairyFeed