Both alternative strategies offer some short-term benefit in reducing stress on the calf but advantages in animal gain tend to be short-lived. These alternative, lower stress management options can become more important as the age at weaning is reduced.
Calf nutrition — During the first week post-weaning, the focus should be on intake, intake and intake. Nutrient density also plays an important role but dry matter intake is generally the most important challenge. Feeds offered should be high quality and palatable.
Calves are accustomed to grazing; so long-stem hay for the first three to seven days is a recommendation. This should be high quality, leafy hay. Hand feeding allows you to limit offer the forage to the point where the calves leave a small amount (generally 1-2 percent of body weight).
Hand feeding allows a better feel for true feed intake of the calves. Limit feeding forage lightly pressures calves to consume more dry feed. Many feeders find that slightly limiting intake and keeping calves somewhat aggressive allows for easier detection and treating of sick calves. Limit feeding allows a better examination of feeding behavior and perhaps allows better general management of the group.
Calves can be successfully started on many different feedstuffs including corn gluten feed, soy hulls, corn silage, etc. The important thing is to allow time for the calves to develop an appetite for new feeds, and the rumen bacteria to adapt to the new feeds.
The feed mix should also meet the nutritional requirements of the calves.
Corn gluten feed adds energy and protein without contributing starch. As with many by-products, quality and nutrient content vary with source.
Soyhulls are a very palatable, safe feed to use. They will add fiber, but not roughage. Protein content is 12-14 percent. They are better as a supplement to forage programs and limited to 1 percent of body weight.
Whole corn can work as well (or better) as ground corn in a starting ration. If grinding, avoid making the feed too fine and dusty.
Calves can be started on corn silage, but a two-week adaptation is best.
If the calves are not part of a retained ownership program, be cautious of gains exceeding two pounds per day due to supplementation. Calves can be considered too fleshy and potentially discounted by buyers.
Growth promoting implants will usually increase daily gain 10 percent during the preconditioning period.
Newly weaned or received calves should have enough feed bunk space so all the calves can eat at one time (18-24 inches per head).
Non-protein nitrogen sources such as urea should not be introduced until the calves are settled in.
Jerry Little is Boyle County extension agent for agriculture/natural resources.