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 Lifetime dairy conference Wincanton

Calf Milk Feeding Strategy


The importance of calf milk feeding strategy and dry cow rations in maximising the lifetime performance of the dairy herd were discussed by specialists at the recent Mole Valley Farmers Lifetime Dairy Conference.

The event at Wincanton Racecourse, Somerset (26 April), saw world renowned dairy researcher, Dr Jim Drackley of The University of Illinois, take to the stage to highlight the latest findings surrounding dry cow management. He was joined by leading calf expert, Dr Jessica Cooke of Volac and specialists from within the Mole Valley Farmers team.

Dry cow protein requirements were brought under the spotlight by Dr Drackley who emphasised the need for farmers to think about negative protein balance, as much as negative energy balance.

He said protein consumption generally fell short of requirements around calving, forcing the cow to mobilise body reserves in the first week postpartum. However, some of the main issues occurred when a cow was forced to mobilise body protein prior to calving, when dietary protein supply was inadequate.

“We don’t want cows to break down muscle protein pre-calving, as then there’s less available after calving,” Dr Drackley explained. To  overcome these issues,

he said it was vital to provide cows with sufficient metabolisable protein around calving - specifically for the amino acids it provided. Providing methionine and lysine was particularly important as it was likely these were being underfed in most diets.

Dr Drackley’s own work had shown that feeding rumen protected methionine in the three weeks before calving and 28 days after calving resulted in improved dry matter intakes post-calving, improved milk yields and better milk proteins. Cows also had better immunity, as shown by better functioning of immune cells.

Dr Cooke highlighted the benefits of feeding higher levels of calf milk replacer (CMR) in terms of setting the heifer up for a productive, long life.

By investing in this early stage, farmers would be rewarded with better milk production and health. For example, every 100g of average daily gain pre-weaning resulted in 85-111kg more milk in the first lactation, whilst better fed calves would also be more resistant to disease and more likely to hit the ideal weight to calve at a target  24 months.

She advised feeding >750kg of milk replacer per calf per day from one week of age.

However she emphasised that weaning strategy became “absolutely crucial” when feeding high levels and urged farmers to adopt a three week weaning strategy.

This was due to the fact high milk fed calves had less drive to consume concentrates, which could restrict rumen development, their ability to digest fibre and thus their growth rates post-weaning.

She added: “We need to balance the intake of nutrients from both the solid feed and the milk feed in the last few weeks, before weaning to ensure we see no set-backs and animals can continue to thrive and go on to hit subsequent targets.”

Watch the videos of the conference at


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 Newsletter 649

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