Early meal and smooth transitions
As future ruminants, calves benefit from the early introduction of solid feed to help their rumen develop. This, along with smooth transitions from one feed to the next will make for healthy calves and good growth rates.
There is no doubt that very young calves derive their nutrients from their primary feed, colostrum, transition milk and then milk/CMR.
However, since calves are developing ruminants, liquid feed is only one part of the recipe. As future ruminants, their development will be driven by the efficiency of their rumen, specifically the papillae. These finger-like protrusions that line the rumen need to be developed to allow maximum absorption of nutrients that have been broken down from the feed.
Developing a better rumen
That’s where the early introduction of solid feed really pays off:
Quality meal (based on grain and protein) is pivotal because the fermentation of starchy materials like maize and barley acts as a stimulus for developing rumen papillae. .
There’s clearly a huge benefit in ensuring timely and healthy rumen development. Ultimately, it promotes the enhanced absorption of nutrients from the feed. And this, in turn, translates into improved growth rates. A better developed rumen equals better growth; it really is as simple as that.
Introduction of meal
But keep in mind that introducing meal is primarily about getting the animals used to solid feed. Initially it’s not about focusing on quantity of feed, let alone decreasing their milk allowance; they certainly won’t consume very much meal to begin with. Nonetheless, as long as it smells fresh and tastes good they will start eating it. Muesli is a superb first introduction that ticks all the boxes.
In essence, the focus is very much on ensuring quality of feed and giving them fresh meal every time. This is paramount given that calves will be less inclined to eat stale meal.
In addition to meal and milk, be sure to provide plenty of fresh, clean water along with the necessary roughage.
Transitioning is key
Just keep in mind that calves are naturally weary of anything they don’t know, including a change of feed. The invariable result would be feed refusal. Any change should therefore be introduced by way of a gradual transition to prevent them going off their feed and eliminate the growth checks that come with sudden change.
Weaning is a notable case in point. It represents a major change that can nevertheless be successfully managed without stressing the animal. In practice this means continuing with the calf meal once the animals are put onto pasture and only then gradually decreasing the meal allowance. This allows them to adjust and effectively eliminates the stressors of sudden change.
Addressing these factors will significantly support your calves’ development and contribute to overall health and growth rates.