First things first, let’s talk about the nutritional fundamentals for newborn calves: colostrum.
Colostrum is the cow’s first milk and is rich in immunoglobulins, that are vital to help the newborns’ immune system develop properly.
Colostrum must be the first feeding in a calf's life since it helps the newborns to develop passive immunity within the first 6 to maximum 24 hours post parturition, which is vital for the calf’s health from then on. Hence, as a cattle owner, the first thing to make sure of is that calves have access to colostrum.
Then secondly, the transition from milk to solid feed is an essential step in cattle production.
In this phase the introduction of creep feed is a common practice, which consists in providing supplementary feed to calves prior to weaning, in doing so favoring a gradual transition to solid food and integrating the dam’s milk with other nutritional elements.
Despite the low solid food intake, since calves will still be consuming milk from the dams, studies have shown that creep feed aids in attaining good weaning weights faster, mostly because the calves will be already used to solid feed when the proper weaning starts and they will less likely refuse the new diet.
Depending on management decisions, creep feed is usually introduced to calves at two months.
Key concerns and nutritional requirements for a growing calf
- As the saying goes, ‘water is life’, so calves do need a lot of water in their bodies, a vital requirement. Avail clean water for calves all the time, which is vital for the good functioning of their metabolism.
- Prior to weaning calves can be bottle fed, especially among dairy calves, since the dams have to be milked. Calves reared for beef production suckle from the dams until weaning.
- Weaning calves can be stressful to both the dam and calf, as they are separated from each other. Hence, low solid feed intake within the first weeks is often observed. Which then stealthy increases as the calves get used to straw, hay, and various vegetation in the veld.
- High protein rations in the diet are essential to growing calves as they aid in metabolic functions such as the synthesis of enzymes, cell division and cell repair. Amino acids are the protein building blocks. Protein in feeds is broken down by digestion into various amino acids, which are subsequently absorbed by calves for growth and maintenance. Some of the most important amino acids are: Phenylalanine, Methionine, Proline, Leucine and Lysine.
- Fibre in feed aids promulgate saliva production when chewing and hence favor the digestive processes.
- Minerals, such as calcium and phosphorus, are mandatory in feed rations as they aid in bone development. Moreover, calcium facilitates muscle function and energy metabolism.
- The secret to high feed intake in calves is the use of feed with sweet smelling aroma like urea molasses blocks. Pelleted feeds as well are a good starting point.
In summary, calf nutrition is a crucial management tool, which ensures survival of calves. For weaner producers, good healthy weaners mean a good pocket of cash. Therefore, adhering to animal welfare, providing the best nutritional regime and ideal husbandry ensure smooth rearing of calves.
- 3. Calf Nutrition
- Creep Feeding Calves
- Thapa, B. R. (2005). Health factors in colostrum. The Indian Journal of Pediatrics, 72(7), 579-581.
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