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14 Management and nutritional tips to ensure optimal calf growth

14 Management and nutritional tips to ensure optimal calf growth

By Marine Gauthier, Andrew Skidmore, DVM, Ph.D., and Bruno Martin, Lallemand Animal Nutrition.


  1. Work with your farm advisers to ensure that the transition cow is well managed in terms of nutrition, vaccination, cleanliness, and pen movements. The goal is to ensure a smooth transition period.


  1. Ensure the three Q’s of colostrum intake to foster natural defenses:
    • Quantity – 4 liters to be consumed within one hour of birth
    • Quality – appropriate IgG content (can be evaluated with a refractometer through BRIX index)
    • Quickly – colostrum quality decreases dramatically following calving. If quality is insufficient, it is advised to administrate commercial colostrum or frozen colostrum from previous cows
  2. Work with your nutritionist to make sure you are feeding a high plane of nutrition. Remember target growth rates of doubling of the birth weight within the first 60 days of life.
  3. Take care of the calf’s environment and housing: animals need to be in a clean, dry, and well-bedded pen, with proper ventilation and no drafts. Adapt the feeding and bedding strategies to either heat or cold weather. For example, during summertime lifting the back of calf hutches to promote cooling or during colder times, maintaining deep bedding and enough calories are fed.
  4. Offer a small amount of high-quality calf starter from 2 to 3 days of life, ensuring maximum starter intake during the first 6-8 weeks. Refresh starter and water daily to stimulate intake and rumen maturity. Starter grain is very important at this stage as it favors the production of the volatile fatty acids (VFAs) butyrate and propionate within the rumen. The presence of these VFAs in the rumen promotes the development of a healthy and well-structured surface area of rumen papillae.
  5. With your adviser, make sure the calf starter has optimal protein levels, trace minerals, and vitamin content to best meet the demands of the rapidly growing animal.
  6. Feed has to be palatable and easy to access. Generally, consumption is stimulated if the concentrate is in close proximity to the milk feeding area.
  7. Provide cool, clean water in abundant quantity.
  8. Consider supplementing probiotics, prebiotics, and antioxidants with proven positive effects on rumen maturation, intestinal health, and supporting the natural defenses and digestive function.

Around weaning

  1. Minimize stress at weaning transition, e.g. don’t change solid feed and housing at the same time.
  2. Offer access to effective fiber to stimulate rumen motility and help increase fermenting volume.
  3. Sub Acute Ruminal Acidosis (SARA) is very common after weaning. Compared to their body weight, young bovines have a high feed intake (up to 3 % of their body weight on a dry matter basis), although they slowly increase their rumination behavior. Consider probiotic yeast to help control rumen pH and encourage feed intake.
  4. Pay attention to the lower gut health to support the animal’s immune system, especially during the weaning transition.
  5. Around weaning, coccidiosis is quite common. Prevention through proper sanitization of housing between animals is key. Consider implementing positive biofilm products to the housing environment.

Published Nov 19, 2020