The Effect of Feeding Different Milk Programs on Dairy Calf Growth, Health and Development

1 Trakia University, Agricultural Faculty, BG-6000 Stara Zagora, Bulgaria
2 Trakia University, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, BG-6000 Stara Zagora, Bulgaria


YAVUZ, E., N. TODOROV, G. GANCHEV and K. NEDELKOV, 2015. The effect of feeding different milk programs on dairy calf growth, health and development. Bulg. J. Agric. Sci., 21: 384–393

Object of this study was to evaluate the effect of quantity and duration of milk feeding in the first two months of life of dairy calves on their growth and development until 70 days of age. The experiment was carried out from September to November. Average ambient temperature varied from 8 to 17°C. Calves were kept in individual hutches with straw bedding. Sixty Black and White female calves (mean 38.4 kg live weight) were included in a 70-day trial to evaluate the effect of three milk feeding programs. Calves were allocated to treatments based on weight and date of birth and blood immunoglobulin (Ig) concentration on 2 days of age.
Calves were fed pasteurized (60°C for 30 min) unsalable milk from antibiotic-treated cows at three levels:

All calves received 2 L high quality (above 50 g Ig/L) colostrum three times inthefirst day after calving, and medium or low quality colostrum, usually from second and third milking after calving, 3 times by 2 L during the second day of life. Calf starter with 19% crude protein (CP) consisting of 50% whole maize grain and 50% pelleted protein concentrate (29% CP) was offered free choice until 70 days of age to three groups of calves. Alfalfa hay was offered ad libitum after 35 days of age. Starter feed, hay and milk consumption were controlled on a daily basis during the trial. Live weight and size of calves were measured at birth, and at 35, 56 and 70 days of age.
Health status and behavior were observed every day. Beginning of rumination was observed and duration of rumination was recorded on 53–56 and 67–70 days of age. Intake of starter feed after 35 days of age depended on level of milk feeding, but did not compensate shortage of energy at any of experimental milk feeding levels. Dry matter intake (DMI), net energy (FUG) intake and live weight gain (LWG) until 35 days of age were different (P < 0.05) for groups of calves receiving 4, 6 or 8 L of milk. From 36 to 56 days of age starter DMI, FUG intake and LWG differed (P < 0.05) only between LM and HM groups. The dry mater conversion ratio was higher for HM than LM group until 35 days of age, but not later. There were no significant differences (P > 0.05) in FUG efficiency between groups during the different periods of the trial. Tendency for lower LWG after weaning of the HM group, compared to LM and MM groups was observed, which may be connected with lower digestibility of dry feeds or deposition of more fat into the body of calves.
Size growth followed LWG, but differences between groups of calves were significant only after 35 days of age for withers height, and after 56 days of age for heart girth. Rumination time differed between groups only at 53–56 days of age. There were no differences in diarrhea, pneumonia and other illness among the groups. Fecal scores tended to be low (softer) in HM group, and LM calves tended to have more non feeding oral behavior and bellowing compared to other groups. After weaning, the growth, health condition, rumination and feed efficiency were equal for the three groups of calves. In conclusion abundant colostrum and milk feeding resulted in significant advancing in live weight and frame size growth during the first 35 days of life, before rumen development and increased dry feed intake. The calves’ performance and health status were not affected by the level of milk feeding during the preweaning period. Experimental calves will be followed through the first lactation to see if treatments had any marked effect on future milk production.

Key words: dairy calf, milk feeding, growth, health, development, feed efficiency, weaning check
Abbreviations: CP – crude protein, DM – dry mater, FUG – feed unit for gain, HM – high milk group, Ig – Immunoglobulin, LM – low milk group, MM – moderate milk group, LW – live weight,  LWG – live weight gain

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