Do Your Dairy Calves Measure Up?

Consider these Holstein calf growth standards offered by the Dairy Calf and Heifer Association.

Published on: Apr 12, 2012

During a recent mini-seminar,  that featured DCHA senior advisor, John Bernard, dairy nutritionist at University of Georgia and advisor to the Dairy Calf & Heifer Association, shared some insights on calf starter intake and growth standards.

Holstein calf growth standards, according to DCHA Gold Standards I, indicate that newborn calves should double their birth weight by 60 days of age. The target growth rate standards for Holstein calves are:

GROWING BABY: Feed her well so she meets her performance potential.
GROWING BABY: Feed her well so she meets her performance potential.
  • 24 hours to 60 days of age: double birth weight
  • 61 to 120 days of age: 2.2 pounds average daily gain
  • 121 to 180 days of age: 2.0 pounds average daily gain

To meet these growth goals, calf starter is required to supplement the energy and protein provided by milk replacer. Rumen development is dependent on calf starter consumption, he emphasizes. That's why calf starter intake must increase to make more nutrients available to support growth.

What affects starter intake

Amount of milk replacer fed and it's fat content can make a difference. So can the type and quality of starter and whether it's textured versus pelleted.

Ingredient composition includes several factors including but not limited to those that are grain-based (corn or oats primarily): whole, cracked, rolled, or coarsely ground, a high quality protein supplement (SBM), containing less than 9% molasses and containing less than 4% fat.

In DCHA's Gold Standards Nutrition section, nutrition recommendations are structured to achieve health and growth standards. And, Bernard stresses, clean water and starter grain should be offered to calves with continuous availability by three days of age, and refreshed or replenished daily.

He recommends targeting the following guidelines for starter intake:

  • Days 1-14:  0.12 pounds per day 
  • Days 15-21: 0.25 pounds per day
  • Days 22-28: 0.50 pounds per day 
  • Days 29-35: 1.00 pound per day 
  • Days 36-42: 2.00 pounds per day 
  • Days 43-60: 4.45 pounds per day 

Wean on the calendar (42 days of age) or when intake averages two pounds per day  for three consecutive days.

For more on promoting calf starter intake, click here to review DCHA's Gold Standards I, sections III and V.