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HIGH PLAINS DAIRY CONFERENCE
By Cecilia Parsons
FEEDING HEIFERS FOR GROWTH
A dairy heifer’s ticket to the milk string
can go unnoticed from birth to freshening.
can be punched before she is born. Or, Development occurs in stages from concep-
she can be doomed from the start.
tion to maturity and is more highly regulated
Speakers at the 2014 High Plains Dairy
The seven critical phases of physiological
Conference held in Lubbock, Texas,
brought some differing philosophies on calf
Embryonic and fetal
raising and health, but agreed that economics
Birth to seven days
will continue to play a role in calf manage-
Seven days to weaning
Weaning to 6 months
Dr. Jon Robison,
6 months to breeding
consultant with JDR
Breeding to 8 months of pregnancy
8 months of pregnancy to calving
ment Services in
Calving through the cycle of lactation, ges-
Fresno, Calif., and for-
tation and dry.
mer dairy science in-
Development occurs- or fails to occur-
structor at Fresno State
even as calves grow and gain. Where they are
University, holds that
compromised is unseen and may go unnoticed
an excellent colostrum DR. JON ROBISON,
until milk production or reproduction fails to
management program consultant with JDR meet standards.
is essential for calves Livestock Manage-
Robison said that three to four weeks be-
to reach their genetic ment Services
fore a cow calves, hormones, growth factors
IGF-I and IGF-II and transforming growth
dry cows for optimal colostrum production,
factors accumulate to form colostrum. The
timely harvest and adequate intake are the first formulation continues with prolactin and glu-
steps in toward success in the milk parlor.
cocorticoid production overriding progester-
Giving calves the benefits of quality colos- one which inhibits secretory cells and allows
trum and feeding them for maximum growth
for milk synthesis and secretion.
and development may increase costs, but Ro-
From his perspective, Robison said that
bison argues that producers will see a return
colostrum quality is an indicator of how well
on their investment when the calves need less the close-up period is managed. What would
medical intervention and more healthy heifers the quality and quantity of colostrum be if
enter the milking parlor.
dry cows were not crowded, and their diets
“The future of a dairy is based on the ge-
nutritionally balanced, he asked. Robison’s
netics of today’s offspring,” Robison said.
list of major stressor for dry cows included
Poor management of calves on the dairy or
crowded pens, poor feed quality, inadequate
calf ranch can result in permanent impairment nutrient balance, low dry matter intake, over/
and early culling. Dairies cannot afford to feed under conditioning and high pathogen levels
inefficient animals, he added.
“We spend money developing genetics, but
In 2007, he said calf feeders began report-
what we do can impede our progress.”
ing a difference in many newborn calves
Producers need to understand the differ-
across the west- they were healthy, but weaker
ences between growth and development, Rob- than previous calves. With low milk prices
ison noted. Growth can be measured in height at the time, he said, nutrition - including ex-
and weight, but development – or lack of it
pensive mineral and vitamin supplements for
12 April 2014 DAIRYBUSINESSWEST
close-up cows may have been cut.
Good colostrum has high dry matter or
solids, at 18.5 to 25 percent, and high protein
concentration at 10-17 percent. Milk fat is 4-7
percent. However, by six to ten hours after
calving, colostrum begins to degrade and
reabsorption begins. The average time to first
milking on dairies, Robison points out, is 9.36
hours. Citing a study done at seven California
dairies over a one year period, Robison said
that there was a failure to adequately transfer
antibodies at a rate of 36.26 percent in dairy
heifers. After the establishment of an immune
system stimulation, the next step forward is a
dietary regime capable of sustaining growth
and development. Robison said he receives
calls from calf raisers and dairy producers
who argue that the calves scour if fed more
milk. What is happening, he added, is that the
calves end up being managed for preventing
scours and not for growth. There may need
to be some retraining for calf ranch workers
about scours, Robison said.
Whether calves are being raised on whole
milk, waste milk or milk replacer, calf feeders
need to understand the nutritional components
of what they are feeding. Waste milk can be
highly variable in nutritional value as can milk
replacers. Adding environmental stressors
such as very hot or very cold temperatures can
be even more of a challenge for calves who
are nutritionally deprived.
Robison says whole milk is the standard
by which waste milk or milk replacers should
be compared in terms of nutritional quality.
When milk prices were low, Robison said he
had the opportunity to sell whole milk to a
calf ranch at a higher price than the creamery
was offering. Feeding whole milk to calves for
a year produced a lot of data on growth and
production, he said.
There are good quality milk replacers on
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