More on Enhanced Calf Growth and Too-High-Quality Alfalfa Hay

Dr. Ronald L. Boman
USU Extension Dairy Specialist

More on Calves -

I was called on the carpet for not recognizing another company that has an enhanced growth program for obtaining �Normal Biological Growth� of dairy calves. A good friend with Cargill Animal Nutrition informed me that they also have a higher protein milk replacer. In the last article I had mentioned that Milk Specialities and Land-O-Lakes had these higher protein (also higher quality) milk replacers. I try not to favor one company over another and suggest that you contact each one�s representatives about their particular products. At any rate, we need to take a hard look at obtaining enhanced growth of our calves in order to increase their growth rate and stature at a time when they grow most efficiently, and also to take advantage of the reduced incidence of disease associated with this accelerated growth. Some things that these programs have in common that I do recommend are:

1. Making certain the calves receive one gallon of high quality colostrum within the first two (2) hours of birth. Some producers report that calves aren�t hungry for the next feeding, but it is still important to get the one gallon of high quality colostrum in them while the gut is permeable to the larger immune globulins. Ideally we will keep the calves on colostrum for the first 48 hours of life;

2. Making certain that the calves have access to clean drinking water during the milk replacer feeding period. As I have mentioned in the past, calves need water to encourage optimum calf starter consumption and to maintain normal body functions;

3. All three of these milk replacer companies have their own higher protein (also higher quality) calf starters that should be fed in conjunction with their milk replacers; and

4. They all recommend weaning at approximately 5 to 6 weeks of age (when calves are eating at least 2 to 3 lbs of calf starter).

Alfalfa Hay that is TOO HIGH in Quality -

I�ve recently seen too many instances where dairy producers who feed super high quality alfalfa (especially those that don�t have other sources of forages and are not using by-product feeds) are experiencing low milk fat tests and rumen acidosis. I don�t blame them for wanting to have super quality hay, but it needs to be uniformly mixed and diluted with either lower quality hay or haylage, corn silage, or combined with fibrous by-product feeds such as whole cottonseed, beet pulp, or soy hulls. Some producers have had to resort to feeding straw to overcome the low fat tests and acidosis problems. Straw is not always available and is sometimes rather expensive and it reduces the energy content of the ration. Cows need adequate effective fiber in their rations to maintain normal rumen function. The new NRC recommends a minimum of 17 to 21% ADF and 25 to 33% NDF in complete rations for lactating cows. Super quality alfalfa, which makes up less than half of the ration, may be only 23 to 25% ADF and only 32 to 34% NDF. It is difficult to impossible to formulate a lactating ration for effective fiber when this super quality alfalfa is the major forage in the ration. Frequently, particle size of the alfalfa is reduced too much by over-mixing or chopping, and the super quality hay is easily broken into smaller particles that only compounds the problem. Another aspect of this super quality-high protein hay is that the protein is very soluble, and a very large portion of it is broken down in the rumen. If we try to feed enough of this hay (and/or haylage) to supply the needed fiber in the ration, then we over-feed rumen degraded protein. This not only causes an imbalance in rumen degraded/rumen by-pass protein, but it also means (among other things) more nitrogen excreted in the manure which causes increased environmental concerns. Larger dairy operations with multiple sources of alfalfa hay and haylage, corn silage, and by-product commodity feeds can and should use some super high quality hay when it is available at a reasonable price. We should always remember to be consistent in our feeding practices, such as feeding at the same time each day, making sure that the TMR is mixed according to what has been formulated to meet all of the cow�s nutritional needs, and that there is no sorting of feedstuffs, etc. ©