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The True Impact of Milk Replacer and Starter Feed on Calf Performance...

Calves need the best start in life for the greatest performance throughout life. However, there must be a balance between milk replacer powder and starter feed to drive skeletal growth, especially if heifers are served at 15 months old.


Producers should look beyond weaning to see the true impact of starter feeds on performance, and to find the feeding regime that best meets their goals.


Research shows that pre-weaning nutrition accounted for less than 3% of the variation in first lactation milk yield performance so is it a myth that more milk replacer leads to more milk production?


It is not just milk replacer that contributes to achieving target growth rates. Starter feed and management, both pre and post weaning, have key roles to play, alongside high standards of calf management and health protocols.



Dugdale Nutrition work closely with Denkovit and Cargill to produce our DN Progressive Calf Milk. The latest data from Cargill's Ohio-based Nurture Research Centre shows that calves fed on higher rates of calf milk replacer (CMR) had marginally better growth rates by four months old, but poorer structural growth.



Table 1 shows that although the growth rates of calves fed on high levels of CMR are considerable better at weaning, this advantage diminishes post weaning. Calves fed on moderate or high - as opposed to very high rates - of milk replacer had better height and hip growth post weaning.


*28:17 means 28% protein and 17% oil

Table 1: Heifer calf performance an varying CMR feeding rates


This advantage is reflected in the overall results from birth to four months old. Skeletal growth is particularly important in heifer calves that are due to be served at 15 months old, to achieve 24-month-old calving.


Further research has shown that organic matter digestion and acid detergent fibre (ADF) digestion are reduced around weaning in calves that are fed higher volumes of milk replacer.


The trial compared calves fed 900g of milk replacer a day with those fed more moderate amounts of 660g a day and it found that starter intakes in calves fed more than 660g were depressed. Milk replacer enters the abomasum, whereas starter feed is digested in the rumen. Calves on higher rates of milk replacer, and less starter, will encounter reduced rumen activity and, therefore, rumen development compared to calves with higher starter feed intakes. Starch, which comes from starter feed, encourages rumen development.


Cargill trials have shown that starter diets that include a higher starch level can achieve better rumen development and body weights compared with low starch content starter feeds. Further work showed that feeding a starter and grower feed from birth to 16 weeks, with 38% starch on a dry matter basis compared with 20% starch on a dry matter bases, resulted in a 6% improvement in daily weight gain up to 8 weeks old and then 10% improvement from 8 weeks to 16 weeks. Overall, these calves fed on a higher starch diet were 7kg heavier at 16 weeks old with a 10mm improvement in hip width.


Finding the correct balance of milk replacer and starter feed intakes is important. This will be more cost effective and efficient than feeding larger volumes of milk replacer. It will also better prepare the calf for weaning and prevent any checks in performance.



DN Progressive Calf Milk Powder


DN Progressive Calf Milk Powder is a high-quality powder which is formulated with the fatty acid technology of NeoTec4 and Amino acid balanced Amneo technology.


The benefits of NeoTec4:

  • Improve Feed Efficiency & Utilisation

  • Improve ADG (Average Daily Gain)

  • Improve Frame & Muscle Growth

  • Supported Immune System meaning lower risk of disease challenges

Amneo balances the amino acids to meet the calf's requirements.


You can be confident that when feeding DN Progressive Calf Milk, your calves are benefiting from the very latest technologies, high quality ingredients, extensive research, and calf nutrition knowledge.


If you would like more advise or information, contact DN Sales Specialist or call us on 01200 420200.



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