What is good quality milk replacer? With milk replacer you generally get what you pay for. While there are many possible reasons for poor weight gains in young calves, the quality of the milk replacer should be included in any investigation. Milk replacer powder should be easily dissolved, leaving no sediment at the bottom of the feeders. It should be a cream colour and have a pleasant odour. A milk replacer which contains only milk-derived proteins is preferable, especially for young calves. You should always check the label of the bag to see what ingredients and product specifications are given. The content of crude protein in many traditional milk replacers is around 20% (on a dry matter basis). If these milk replacers are fed at the recommended feeding levels, there will not be enough protein for muscle growth. To promote muscle growth, milk replacers should have a high crude protein content (preferably at least 25% on a dry matter basis). Milk replacer should always be mixed according to the manufacturer's guidelines.
What should I know about calf starter concentrates? The intake of calf starter concentrates is the single most important factor for the development of the rumen. For this reason, it is important that calves have access to clean and palatable starter concentrates from early on, even though they will only eat small amounts in the first 3 weeks. If you provide only small amounts fresh every day, you can reduce wastage, and you will see when the calves need more. Calves fed coarse starter mix eat more and have higher weight gains than calves fed pelleted starters. The coarseness is also of benefit for the growth of the muscle layers in the rumen wall.
Why are starter concentrates important for calves? When a calf is born, the rumen is very small and undeveloped. It does not contribute to digestion at all at this stage. To encourage early development of the rumen, the calf needs to start eating calf starter concentrates and drink water. The development of the rumen is important to ensure a smooth transition frommilk feeding to an adult diet at weaning without setbacks in growth rates. Calves are only beginning to eat considerable amounts of starter concentrates from 3 weeks of life onwards. From then on, however, the higher the amount of milk fed, the lower the amount of starter concentrates they will consume. Thus, the time of weaning is dependent on the feeding regime. Why is water important for calves? The development of the rumen depends on the chemical end-products of bacterial fermentation of the starter concentrates. For the fermentation to take place the bacteria need water. The water that is in the milk does not contribute, because the milk bypasses the rumen and goes directly into the abomasum. Calves that have free access to water eat more starter concentrates and have enhanced ruminal development. Thus, it is recommended that clean water is provided at all times.
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