calf to cow

First 8 weeks crucial in development of a dairy cow

Traditionally, livestock farming pays a great deal of attention to the nutrition and living conditions of dairy cows. However, your calves should definitely not be forgotten! American research at Cornwell has shown that calves produce the most functional udder tissue in the first 8 weeks. Therefore one should not just take care of it’s cows but also pay sufficient attention to its calves. Especially towards its feeding and housing options. Good growth ensures that a calf has, on average, a higher milk production during its first lactations than calves that have not achieved optimum growth.

a good start is half the work

As described in other articles, the first few hours are immediately of importance for a calf. During this period the calf should be given enough colostrum milk so it can build up a good immune system and start of on the right foot. Research has shown that calves that received 4 L of colostrum milk in the first hours after birth grew an average of about 1 kg per day. Calves that received only 2 liters in the same period of time attained a growth of 800 g. Provided that calves are housed in the same way, this leads to a difference in milk production of 550 kg during the first 2 lactations. Although research has never officially shown a significant effect of colostrum on the udders, it does seem that there is a positive relationship.

Growth potential calves

How much growth can a calf achieve before weaning? 

Many factors play a role in the growth of a calf. Has the calf been sick during this period or did it have to take antibiotics? How big and heavy was the calf at birth? The most important factor, however, is the amount of nutrition the calf receives before it is weaned. During the research at Cornwell, a total of about 1800 heifers were examined for their first lactation. The goal was to double the birth weight after 60. In order to achieve this, the calves were fed 1.5% of its body weight in milk replacers during the first 7 days. Subsequently another 2 to 2.5%. In the control group, 0.9 kg of milk replacers were fed from day 7 up to weaning on 49 days. The average daily growth rate on the commercial farm was 660 grams, which is believed to be a good comparison to other farms. The values varied between a range of 320 and 1270 g.

Total milk yield

what is the impact of growth on the milk yield?

By combining the results of the two dairy farms, the study revealed a significant difference in milk production. It was found that calves that grow well before weaning achieve on average 970 kg of milk yield per kg of average daily growth during the first lactation. As a result, 22% of the difference in milk production can be explained by the average daily growth. Of course, daily growth is not the only determinant and a number of external factors (e.g. climate, birth weight, diseases) have to be taken into account. In addition to the impact on the first lactation, daily growth also seems to have a positive influence on further lactations. See the results in the table above.

What can i do to assure good growth?

In the end, proper growth goes hand in hand with the right nutrition. This means that . In addition, it is important that a high quality and hygienic living environment is created so that the risk of diseases is reduced. Furthermore, there are studies in progress to see if there are any other factors that stimulate a calf’s growth. For example, some studies claim that early group housing stimulates a higher feed intake.

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