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Save time by altering your milk feeding strategy this spring

If carried out correctly, Once A Day milk-feeding is a practice that can greatly reduce the labour required during the rearing period. James Dunne, Teagasc Dairy Specialist, states that numerous Teagasc research trials show a 25% - 36% reduction in labour input required versus twice a day feeding

If carried out correctly, once-a-day feeding of milk replacer is a practice that can greatly reduce the labour required during the rearing period. Numerous research trials conducted by Teagasc has shown a 25% - 36% reduction in the labour input required for OAD (once-a-day) compared to TAD (twice-a-day) milk feeding systems. Milk replacer can be fed OAD with no differences in weight gain or scour incidence. Early rumen development is enhanced due to the increased consumption of both concentrates and straw. Calves achieve higher dry matter intakes at an earlier age, possibly leading to two weeks earlier weaning.

Table 1: Effect of once or twice daily feeding on calf rearing time, weight at 77 days and daily gain

Introducing once-a-day feeding

  • Under EU law, calves must be fed twice-a-day. The abomasum of a newborn calf is not large enough to deal with the recommended volume of milk if it is given in one feed. Therefore milk should be fed twice-a-day at the start and up until 28 days of age. When a calf is consuming concentrates and has developed rumen capacity, one of these daily feeds can be a dry feed in the form of calf starter pellets.
  • From 28 days of age, studies show that whole milk or milk replacer can be fed once-a-day with no difference in weight gain or scour incidence. However, calves must remain being checked thoroughly twice daily and fed concentrate at an alternative time to milk feeding.
  • Only healthy calves should be transitioned to OAD feeding.
  • Calves are not under-fed when an OAD feeding protocol is correctly implemented; rather they receive their daily allocation of milk in one feed rather than two.
  • Good quality milk replacers can be fed OAD – check the label of the bag to see what product specifications are given. Specifications and mixing rates can vary between products and it is essential to always follow the manufacturer’s recommendations. A milk replacer which contains only a relatively high level of milk-derived proteins is preferable (skim milk powder or whey protein).

Best practice when OAD feeding

  • Calves should be provided with ad-lib access to concentrates, straw and fresh clean water at all times
  • Like TAD feeding, ensure all calves drink their daily allowance of milk
  • If OAD feeding is implemented, it is best practice to feed calves at the same time with milk replacer each day.
  • It’s preferable to feed milk in the morning, as this will reduce disturbance and allow calves to settle down to concentrate feeding. Concentrates should also be fed at a time when milk is not being fed e.g. feed milk in the morning and concentrate in the evening
  • It is important to continue to check calves twice daily in order to detect any potential health problems
  • Being consistent on feeding time, temperature of the milk fed, concentration and volume offered as well as hygiene are of the upmost importance

More on Calf Rearing can be found here