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Setting up for success

Setting up for success

Setting up for success

We all know the importance of a good calf starter feed and the impact it has on rumen development and liveweight gain, so when choosing what to feed, what do we need to look for?

Having a palatable starter means that calves start eating meal early. Every day calves don’t eat is a missed opportunity to gain weight. Avoid using a dusty or mouldy meal, as not only will calves typically turn their nose up at it, but it can also play havoc with their immune system. The ideal meal options are textured feed or muesli as they smell good. When the calves go in to smell it, the molasses sticks to their nose, causing them to lick it off.

Energy and starch are also important factors. The energy (MJME) should come from good quality grains that have been partially cooked as they break down easily within the rumen. When good quality starch breaks down in the rumen it develops the rumen papillae, the finger-like protrusions lining the inside wall of the rumen. As these papillae develop the surface area of the rumen increases, it makes the rumen more efficient at nutrient absorption, resulting in faster liveweight gain. Products such as biscuit meal and lollies can lift the MJME and fat content in the meal, however they do not have the same supportive development for the rumen as grains and can have inconsistent contents and quality.

Consistency is key to keep intake on track. The total volume of meal eaten is also very small so using fillers such as Palm Kernel Extract (PKE) within the meal, that don’t add value, can take up critical space that is needed for important nutrients. The higher the MJME, the faster the calf will grow, so aim for 13 MJME/kg Dry Matter (DM) and over 30 percent starch by using a mix of good quality grains.

Protein is essential for muscle development. It is important to consider the source of protein to ensure it is in a form the calf can utilise. Good quality vegetable proteins such as soybean meal, cottonseed meal, canola and peas offer essential amino acids. In some cases, Urea is added to a meal to lift the Crude Protein (CP) content but the calf can’t use it; Urea is a great fertiliser however, it is not ideal in calf meal. The protein content of calf meal typically varies from 16 to 20 percent protein. Poukawa Calf Rearing Project showed calves eating 20 percent protein meal were 4.2 kg heavier at six weeks old than the calves eating 16 percent. Keep an eye out on the protein level in your starter feed or muesli; they can vary from 18 to 20 percent protein.

Specifically formulated calf meal may appear expensive on a per tonne basis but consider the price per unit of starch. Keep in mind that having a balanced meal with vitamins, minerals and a coccidiostat will work effectively in ensuring that the calf has everything they need. Selenium (Se) to boost immunity, Zinc (Zn) for strong hoof development, Cobalt (Co) and Vitamin B12 and B1 to increase their appetite and aid in getting energy to the brain. Vitamin A supports their eye development and skeletal tissue maintenance. Vitamin A is typically high in pasture, but when calves are kept inside, supplementation is essential to meet the calves growing requirements.

SealesWinslow CalfPro® 20% Muesli offers a balanced textured meal with high energy, available starch, 20 percent CP and a full mineral and vitamin pack to ensure that your calves are off to a great start.

Have a chat with your local PGG Wrightson Technical Field Representative to discuss your calf feed options for this season.