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Setting heifer calves up for a healthy life

Taking time to choose the right quality milk replacer and matching nutrition with target growth rates will bring big rewards throughout a heifer’s life.

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Selecting the right calf milk replacer is vital
Selecting the right calf milk replacer is vital

You cannot underline enough how important the milk feeding period is in setting the heifer calf up for a healthy, productive life, says Volac’s Dr Jessica Cooke.

 

The research says it all – feeding calves on a higher plane of nutrition aids mammary development, while getting them to grow better pre-weaning will lead to better first lactation yields.

 

The fact the calf is entirely reliant on milk in the first three weeks of life to support health and growth means selecting the right calf milk replacer (CMR) is vital.

 

That is why Dr Cooke believes it is worth taking the time to choose a quality product (see Top five things when selecting a milk replacer for replacement heifers panel, below).

 

“You need the right elements in the CMR to get good growth, but also to support calf health and development, and you also need to feed enough to get mammary development from an early age,” she says.

 

“Calf milk replacers vary enormously in terms of both the type and quality of ingredients, and the level of protein and fat which will determine their digestibility in the young calf.”


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What to feed

Volac has developed the Lifeguard range of CMRs which are designed to programme the calf for success, and are based on the beneficial ingredients naturally found in the whey fraction of milk and colostrum.

 

Colostrum is 65% whey protein and 35% casein protein, while whole milk is 20% whey and 80% casein protein.

 

Dr Cooke says it is the whey fraction which contains beneficial ingredients that help support the immune system and influence the growth and development of the calf.

 

Volac is able to filter and concentrate up the liquid whey protein fraction of milk and collect the key proteins, fats, sugars and other bioactive components which are important for calf programming.

 

The resultant ingredient is Imunopro® – a concentrated whey protein base material packed with the vital amino acids and immunoglobulins necessary for healthy calf growth and development.

 

The balance of specific amino acids (building block of proteins), rather than crude protein percentage drives muscle development and growth. Imunopro® contains a high level of key amino acids, such as lysine and leucine, which influences the speed of muscle synthesis.

Immunoglobulins

Found in high levels in colostrum, immunoglobulins are absorbed by the calf’s gut in the first 24 hours to provide immunity.

 

Immunoglobulins also have a part to play after the gut has closed, encouraging rapid gut development and laying a solid foundation for fast efficient growth.

 

Imunopro® has a high level of immunoglobulins, in particular IgG, which is vital for early life immune development.

 

Lactoferrin

Imunopro® contains elevated levels of lactoferrin, a protein naturally found in high levels in colostrum and milk which is key for the development of the immune system and has antibacterial properties in the gut. In a trial (Habing et al, 2017), feeding lactoferrin to calves at the first sign of scours resulted in less

Fatty acids

These are a direct fuel source for the calf, but also carry out an important anti-microbial role helping to fight off damaging bacteria. Imunopro® contains a high level of these milk fats.

 

Imunopro® forms the basis of all Volac calf milk replacers, which are produced in its processing facility in Wales using British milk.

 

Dr Cooke says feeding these quality CMRs, at the correct feeding level, will give calves the best possible start and, together with good starter intake, will help deliver a farm’s target daily weight gains.

 

Check you are feeding enough

It can be easy to presume you are feeding enough to hit target growth rates, but without doing the calculations, it is impossible to tell. Dr Cooke advises farmers sit down and do the maths.

 

“It can be quite an eye opener. A lot of farmers are expecting growth rates of 0.7-0.8kg a day, but if you’re not feeding enough, you won’t achieve it,” she says.

 

As a rough estimate, an indication of growth rate can be achieved by doing a sum (see Are you feeding enough to hit growth targets? panel).

 

However, to get a true indication, calculate the energy supplied versus energy required for your target growth rate (see Tables 1 and 2, above).

 

You will need to know the energy content of your milk replacer and starter – use this to calculate the total amount of energy supplied per calf per day and adjust feeding regime accordingly.

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