Grass Ready Calves in Seven Weeks

By Dr Simone Hoskin PhD (Animal Nutrition)

The secret to growing bigger calves that are grass ready earlier, is getting them off to a good start.  This means having warm, healthy calves that have consumed colostrum in the first 12 hours. However, a good start also means that these calves have access to specific solid feed that will both grow the calf and the rumen, from day one. 

Initially, calves are pre-ruminants and can only digest nutrients from liquid. When calves have access to highly digestible solid feed whilst milk is controlled, the rumen develops rapidly. The walls thicken and muscle up, the epithelium becomes highly papillated and rumen volume increases.

Calf nutrition has progressed from the Least Cost System of restricted levels of milk, 20% crude protein (CP) meal and ad-libitum straw. The straw in this system bulked the rumen and prevented rumen-acidosis. The 20% CP meal was to balance the indigestible straw containing only 4% CP and insufficient milk protein. This system does not programme the rumen for a future on NZ pasture.

The Best way to Grow a Calf

  1. Raw milk/a good quality CMR (26% crude protein, 20+ MJME/kgDM), at 4-6 litres per day. Higher milk/CMR allowances grow the calf well initially, but solid feed intake will be slow and rumen development delayed, making the transition to pasture slow.
  2. A highly digestible forage-based solid feed supplying 11.5-12.5MJ ME/kg DM and 14-16% CP whilst still receiving milk and then post-weaning at pasture.

The Solid Feed Solution:

FiberGain® is a new generation, scientifically formulated calf feed that meets this solid feed requirement.  FiberGain® is a high energy fibre/meal made from fresh cut lucerne and kibbled barley, captured fresh from the field. This is the perfect balance of highly digestible forage and cereal starch, providing the ideal ratio of protein to energy for all calves.

It takes six weeks of high quality, digestible forage consumption to develop the rumen for pasture.

When calves are fed FiberGain® from day one, they are grass-ready in seven weeks, with no weaning check.

Leafy pasture is highly digestible, however, the high-water content in it limits the calf’s nutrient intake causing slow rumen development. Hay/straw are low value feeds for young calves whose rumens are just developing. Long stemmed, dry hay/straw also requires excessive chewing to break down and if chopped, can ulcerate the mouth.

FiberGain® is pre-digested by a unique fermentation process and is a highly digestible rumen-degradable protein, providing the essential amino acids for growth of rumen microbes and the calf itself.

The fresh captured barley starch is rumen digestible and when combined with high nutritional forage, provides balanced fast/slow release energy and protein to maximise microbial growth, rumen growth and liveweight gain.

Programming the rumen to get calves onto pasture early, can be simple. It’s about meeting the calf’s nutrient requirements with a balanced, highly digestible forage and energy solid feed to be ready for a future on pasture.