Water For Calves

Water is THE most important nutrient for calves. It is required for all of life’s processes including digestion, metabolism of nutrients, elimination of waste material and excess heat, and mineral ion balance. To enhance water intake, clean fresh water is a must daily.

Successful weaning is our goal, and development of the rumen for digestion of solid feed enables this. Water is essential for rumen development and fermentation of grain. Unlike milk, water consumed is directed by the oesophageal groove into the rumen, not the abomasum as with milk. Water is necessary for growth of digestive bacteria for fermenting grain. Research has shown greater weight gain in calves offered free choice water as opposed to water in milk or replacer. Calves are 70 – 75% water. Any compromised water access will have severe effects on growth, rumen development and possible death. Dehydration signs include: dry mouth and nose, tacky gums, depression, irregular pulse and cold legs and ears.

A pre-weaned calf require 3 litres of water to consume 1 kg of calf grain. To wean a calf, we need her drinking 8 – 10 litres of water to consume 2 – 2.5 kgs of calf grain. When she is consuming this amount of grain you can be confident the rumen is well enough developed for digesting solid feed and the calf can be weaned. Post-weaning, this ratio increased to 4 lts/kg of solid feed and remains so into adulthood. As atmospheric temperature rises to 21C, water consumption will increase by 33%, and past 32C it will double.

Factors affecting water quality, and hence intake, nutrient value of powdered milk and electrolyte, include, organic matter (odor & taste), physiochemical properties (pH, total dissolved solids) soluble salt & hardness, excess of minerals and bacteria. High total solids can force water out of body cells dehydrating the calf (osmolarity). Calves cannot tolerate excess sodium levels, or elevated mineral content. Bacteria such as E. Coli and salmonella may be present in poor quality water.

Warm water (body temp) is very beneficial. Cold water can drop the temperature of the rumen for up to one hour. Warm water saves energy to restore rumen temperature. Research demonstrating improved health performance in calves with water cleaned by reverse osmosis verifies the necessity for high quality water to achieve optimum growth and development.

Calfmax and TreatScour are available from our webshop.



Dry Cows Need Protein

We have made significant advances in recent years in transition nutrition. Lead Feed grain mixes with anionic inclusion especially, to minimise milk fever and ketosis. However, dry cow nutrition is still a major issue as research uncovers this period as also having major influence on problems at calving, fertility and whole of lactation performance.

In drier months with pasture lacking, crude protein requirement can be severely limiting in both the dry and springer phase. The calf experiences 70% of its growth in the last 60 to 70 days of pregnancy. Unborn calves are fed protein via the umbilical cord, not energy per se. This demand on the dam, if her diet is protein deficient, will cause her to mobilise protein from muscle tissue.

Ensuring adequate protein, especially soluble protein (rumen degradable) during dry months, can be done with grass silage. Hay generally only has around 25% soluble protein, whereas silage can be 65% soluble protein. Lupins can be another source of soluble protein, but limitations apply to amount fed.

Our new born calf’s future rests on colostrum intake. This applies not only to supplementary immunity until the calf develops its own immunity, but also a wide variety of other substances contained in colostrum. Many of these substances are proteins, like IgG. A deficiency of protein pre-calving is going to place a ceiling on the calf’s lifetime production, health and fertility; in short, her value to your farm business for many years to come.

Colostrum needs to be collected as soon as possible post-calving. Research has shown IgG concentration has decreased by 33% in 14 hours post-calving. Likewise, administration of four litres to the new born calf as soon as possible post-calving to avoid a similar deterioration in absorption capacity of IgG, and other protein compounds found in colostrum.

A growing trend both overseas and now in Australia, is pasteurization of colostrum to remove the threat of bacterial contamination. Bacterial contamination will not just feed the calf threatening bacteria, but the quality of colostrum also deteriorates in the presence of bacterial.

Colostrum also contains growth as well as immune modulating compounds including peptide hormones, growth factors, cytokines, steroid hormones and enzymes, amino acids, fatty acids energy, lactose, vitamins and minerals, all essential for a new productive life. Mineral nutrition of our dry/springer cow is also essential to provide these colostrum ingredients. We manufacture a self-feed Loose-Lick mineral preparation to aid in dry cow vitamin and mineral nutrition.


Calfmax and TreatScour are available from our webshop.


Calf Scours

In a recent paper, Professor John Middleton, University of Missouri, stressed prompt treatment was of greater importance than cause of the scour. Calf scours in the first 30 days are caused by a variety of bacteria, viruses and parasites. The primary reason for calves becoming sick is dehydration. The agents causing the scour will be addressed by the calf’s immune system, however weak or strong that may be, the immune response will cause inflammation of the gut which in turn will cause the loss fluids and electrolytes.

The key to survival is addressing the dehydration. Hydrate and replace electrolytes with a commercial electrolyte product. Be diligent in mixing electrolytes following the manufacturer’s instructions. Too strong an electrolyte or weak solution will cause cell damage through either dehydration of cells or excessive rehydration. Both can cause cell death.

The invading bacteria, viruses or parasites are usually ingested from manure-oral contact. This can never be completely eliminated, but management of calving areas is a critical priority during calving. Calving pads, ‘springer paddocks’ both need to be as free as possible of manure and placental material to minimise potential contact with the calf’s mouth. Muddied teats from which a calf will attempt to gain immunity via colostrum can easily be nullified by pathogens on the dam’s teats. Even calves licking the dam’s flank or udder has the same potential. Abundant evidence of this pathogen risk is well documented in the research of the benefits of pasteurization of colostrum and fresh calf milk to eliminate degradation of colostrum and its passive transfer capacity.

Feeding areas of calving sites are always the high risk areas. In the case of calving pads, keeping this area clean will reduce the risk to our new born calf, but also reduce fresh cow mastitis infections. In ‘springer paddocks”, regular shifting of feeders also minimises the same two infection potentials.


Calfmax and TreatScour are available from our webshop.


Managing Margins

Anyone who has been in dairy farming for twenty years or more knows full well, the margins we once had don’t exist today. What we thought were ‘tough times’, we now realise were luxury margins. When I started share farming in the early “70’s”, costs, including finance costs, were benchmarked at 30% of farm income.

The range of margins across farms has always been variable in line with management and debt, multiplied by a whole raft of variables beyond farmer control. We tend to focus far too much on the influences over which we have no control, weather and milk price being the dominant stressors. This leaves us with influences that are within our control.

I’ve have written many times, the two drivers of farm profit are feed and fertility. Feed drives milk production and income, and fertility drives a herd’s capacity to utilize feed in conversion to milk. This is determined by a herd’s average days-in-milk. Obviously the more fresh cows we have in a herd the higher the milk production will be, provided feed is offered to enable our cow to consume to capacity. This is compounded by cows in early lactation possessing greater feed conversion efficiency.

Below these two pillars of farm profitability lay a variety of ‘foundational’ issues we do have control over, to a large degree. Whenever I go to my banks teller machine to draw cash, it comes up with a statement that 37% of farmers, or a similar, agree agtech is the way of the future. I would question this statement. If we do not have these foundational issues under control, no technology under the sun is going to make one iota of difference to a downer cow!

I guess you know where I’m heading now. I’m no financial wizard to advise on slick accounting techniques to improve your margin.

Sick cows cost money. We track a number of performance indicators on our clients’ farms around feeding efficiency. As any of my nagged clients will tell you I get highly repetitive, especially on dry matter intake, as the key to all else. None of the indicators we study are visible through normal accounting analysis of farm businesses, and therefore, pass under the radar completely unknown, evaporating the gap between feed cost and milk income.

Although the sick cow is thought to be visible, with improved nutrition, especially in transition, clinical milk fever rates have plummeted over the last twenty years. This is very positive, but research knows full well, as is often the case in life, the visible issues were only the tip of the iceberg. Subclinical disease is by far the greatest thief of farm profit and attracts little interest because of its non-visible status.
The non-visible, subclinical milk fever, is usually where the ‘train wreck’ starts, then, precipitates a trail of further metabolic diseases, often referred to as the ‘cascade effect’ of milk fever. Some of these secondary diseases remain under the radar just holding back our cow from rapidly increasing DM intake immediately post-calving and induce ketosis.

By now we have a compromised immune system incapable to dealing with pathogen entering the mammary system even under normal farm conditions. Mastitis plays havoc with fertility due to systemic inflammation from mediators sent out by the immune system to address the infection. Immunosuppression enables metritis to establish. Compromised blood calcium status can trigger LDA’s.

Any or all of these disease scenarios will hamper feed intake, limiting milk production at a stage she was at her greatest potential for whole of lactation production. The likelihood of further disease limitation to both milk production and fertility are high. Subclinical ketosis is well researched as to increase risk factor to other metabolic disease, fertility and recent, although early work at Cornell (USA) indicates ketosis in this lactation will reduce milk production in subsequent lactations, and possibly, whole of life production.

Transition management has potential to make or break our margins and justifies every effort to micro manage cow nutrition through this phase. Following are some costings of disease, commonly seen around calving; 1) Mastitis $420, 2) Lameness $330, 3) Retained Placenta $320, 4) LDA $650, 5) Ketosis $180, 6) Milk Fever $250

From this list it would not be hard to list a few disorders that would completely wipe out a cow’s lactation margin.

Managing Margins is managing transition. Fertility will be a serendipitous outcome. That only leaves feed supply to meet our fresh cow’s appetite to complete successful margin management.

Dry cow/springer cow nutrition is number one in prevention strategies. Tools are available to assist, especially springer cow and fresh cow. Urine pH strips will tell you the springer ration DCAD is or isn’t correct. Milk Keto test strips to monitor for ketosis in fresh cows and alert to the need for treatment. These two on-farm tests can save thousands of dollars of farm margin.

John Lyne is a dairy production specialist with Dairytech Nutrition


Avoiding Disease in Dairy Calves


This is the title of a presentation by Professor Geof Smith (North Carolina State University) at a seminar early this year. After announcing there is no ‘magic bullet’ or secret formula to keep young calves health, he continued to say, there are four time proven fundamentals to achieving this goal:

1) Removing the source of infection from the calf’s environment

2) Removing the calf from the contaminated environment

3) Increasing immunity; and

4) Decreasing stress.

Smith stated timely administering of quality colostrum remains #1 priority. He also advises against pooling colostrum, but encourages surplus quality colostrum be frozen for future needs. Further, the three major diseases causing calf death are; diarrhoea, pneumonia and septicaemia (blood poisoning).

In an article earlier this year it was shown diarrhoea is rarely caused by over consumption of milk, but of bacterial contamination. Housing, ventilation and nutrition are the key components for avoiding calf disease.

 Eliminate exposure to cow’s manure. It contains many pathogens immature calf immunity has no capacity to    respond to. Calving pads must be kept clean.

 Overcrowding of pens – Smith recommends 3 square meters/calf

 Identifying disease causes: 1st week – unsanitary calving conditions and/or colostrum delivery. Later sickness tends to be connected to unsanitary housing.

 Air quality. Our normal three-sided calf sheds do not ventilate well. Additional openings in back walls will improve air quality reducing air-born bacterial threat.

 Calves can tolerate cold. Dampness is an obvious haven for bacterial growth and contamination. Bedding should be deep enough that calves can nest enough that their legs are hidden.

 Adequate nutrition. Traditional feeding of 4 litres of fresh milk is not sufficient. Rather, test for solids content (refractometer) and add powder as required to achieve 800 gm of solids daily.

 Studies of stress-induced disease in calves have revealed a number of pathogens that can lie dormant in the gut, but become active when animals are under stress – environmental, nutritional or human induced. Stress also impedes immune response.

From other research data, encouraging grain intake as early as possible is essential. This not just facilitates early weaning, but starch from calf grain mixes will promote skeletal growth far faster than from fibre. Fifty percent of frame growth occurs in the first six months. Restriction of starch intake produces undersized yearlings and first calf heifers that will not ‘grow out’! From three to eight weeks of age, fibre digestion is only 15% to 40%, whereas starch is 50% to 90% digestible to these young calves. A recent question posted on Facebook asked if measuring tapes were a good idea. In a word, YES. Weight gain is one of our goals, but frame growth must accompany it. Lack of starch from calf grain mixes will give weight gain from milk fat, but very little frame growth.

There is no greater joy to calf rearers than watching highly energised calves at play or running wildly in the paddock.



CALFMAX is a soluble combination of an ultra-concentrated blend of

Hydrolysed yeast, yeast extract, yeast culture for addition to calf milk


MOS, Glucans, Galactosamine, Vitamins, Minerals & BOVATEC

Plus a natural plant extract to enhance nutrient absorption

CALFMAX is available directly from Dairytech Nutrition or at the following Rural Stores

South West Vic                                Gippsland                                           Northern Vic

Allansford                                         Leongatha                                          Cohuna

Acme Rural Supplies                       Browns Stockfeeds                     J & R Cooke Trading P/L

Colac                                               Lang Lang                                          Echuca

The Co-op Colac                             Larmax Agribarn                           Kober Ag Intellegence

Noorat                                              Poowong                                           Kyabram

Mt Noorat Farm Supplies                Poowong Dairy & Hardware           Dunstall Rural Supplies

Simpson                                          Drouin                                             Girgarre

E & RA Parlour & Co                      Evison Grain & Produce                  Dunstall Rural Supplies

Terang                                            Yarragon                                          Leitchville

Scanlons Dairy Centre                    Yarragon Rural Supplies                 Lipps Leitchville

Terang Coop                                    Tongala

GTS Farm Supplies

Central Highlands


Davies & Rose

If there is no rural store stockist near you, call Dairytech Nutrition 0400 991 814

Or visit our online store at www.dairytechnutrition.com.au

For information and supply of CALFMAX call Dairytech Nutrition 0400 991 814

Does Calf Nutrition Influence Lifetime Milk Production?


It has been known for some time that quality colostrum contains up to 180 substances, which were initially thought to be natural growth promotants. However, later research identified these substances as being responsible for activating genes in the newborn calf covering all major bodily functions including milk production, growth, immunity, fertility . . . and more.

More recent work has focused on the potential of nutrition during early life of the calf to influence adult life performance, specifically; this research has centred on nutrition’s influence on mammary development and future lactation performance.

Although several early reports were conflicting as to just what was happening, despite weights of mammary tissue increasing with high planes of nutrition, consensus is growing that beneficial outcomes from early calf-hood nutrition does in fact produce significant development of ‘functional’ mammary tissue. Further, follow-up research on calves fed higher levels of fat and protein during their early weeks of life does enhance adult milk production. Setbacks in the early life of the calf have been well documented as having lifetime production legacies. This more recent research on mammary development may well shed light on why.

In an earlier article we looked at refractometers to ensure solids content of calf milk was a ‘known’, rather than a hope. Research on early calf nutrition compared feeding 0.5 kg milk solids to feeding 1 kg milk solids. The calves fed 1 kg of milk solids had double the weight of the mammary gland. It was also found that this weight gain was spread between the fat pad (the supportive tissue in the mammary gland) and ‘functional’ tissue: a fivefold increase in the fat pad and a sevenfold increase in ‘functional’ tissue. Further investigation of the tissues involved revealed no reduction in DNA, essential for gene expression. This means, through higher milk solids intakes, calves can increase functional mammary tissue mass without altering its composition, and hence it’s later life function.

The impetus for this research grew from feeding strategies aimed at increased growth rates in calves; an obviously beneficial goal. However, concern grew as to possible detrimental effects on adult milk production from the possibility of development of fat deposits that may inhibit milk yield, as is common in heifers calving beyond 24 months or overweight, and cows after long dry periods.

This is a “win/win” scenario. Increased growth rates in early calf-hood, and potential for increasing adult milk production. As discussed in earlier calf article, immunity is a very energy-hungry system. As we increase energy and protein intakes in calves, there are immunity benefits complimenting improved growth rates and mammary development.


CALFMAX is a soluble combination of an ultra-concentrated blend of

Hydrolysed yeast, yeast extract, yeast culture for addition to calf milk


MOS, Glucans, Galactosamine, Vitamins, Minerals & BOVATEC

Plus a natural plant extract to enhance nutrient absorption

CALFMAX is available directly from Dairytech Nutrition or at the following Rural Stores

South West Vic                 Gippsland                           Northern Vic

Allansford                          Leongatha                          Cohuna

Acme Rural Supplies        Browns Stockfeeds             J & R Cooke Trading P/L

Colac                                Lang Lang                            Echuca

The Co-op Colac              Larmax Agribarn                   Kober Ag Intellegence

Noorat                              Poowong                               Kyabram

Mt Noorat Farm Supplies Poowong Dairy & Hardware Dunstall Rural Supplies

Simpson                           Drouin                                   Girgarre

E & RA Parlour & Co      Evison Grain & Produce         Dunstall Rural Supplies

Terang                           Yarragon                                  Leitchville

Scanlons Dairy Centre    Yarragon Rural Supplies         Lipps Leitchville

Terang Coop                   Tongala

GTS Farm Supplies

Central Highlands


Davies & Rose

If there is no rural store stockist near you, call Dairytech Nutrition 0400 991 814

Or visit our online store at www.dairytechnutrition.com.au

For information and supply of CALFMAX call Dairytech Nutrition 0400 991 814

Knowing The Risks


Preventative Management for Calf Health

The foundations of calf health are colostrum, nutrition and environment. The timeframe which impacts whole-of-life productivity is the first week, and these two are intimately connected – health and productivity. Investment in genetics can be futile and obliterated in this first week; colostrum being the key ingredient for not just immunity, but activation of genes responsible for lifetime productivity.

Colostrum, we’ve dealt with in previous articles. Nutrition likewise, in our article on refractometers and ensuring calves receive sufficient nutrient via milk. Water consumption drives grain intake and rapidly increases the plane of nutrition and growth. Again, dealt with in recent articles.

Environment now becomes our focus, and planning pre-calving with disease prevention in mind is paramount.

1) The initial risk our calf faces is being born. Long or assisted births increase the risk of infection due to stress, pain and injury, and may reduce both intake and absorption of colostrum and its inherent immunoglobulin and other ‘gene activators’ contained in colostrum.

2) Exposure to pathogens at the birthing site such as salmonella, E. coli, and other infectious organisms of manure origin are common sources of infection, including micro-organisms on the dam’s flank and teats. Calving pads are a wonderful management tool, but sanitation is essential for both calf and dam at calving; both are highly vulnerable at this time. We recommend a spray called Vibrex (Roy 0428 526 581) to sanitize calving areas.

3) Sanitation of feeding equipment goes without saying, but infrequently done. Even colostrum can be a carrier of infectious organisms. Pasteurization of colostrum is a growing practice in the USA. Feeding of powdered milk replacer can minimise pathogens. This can be cheaper than milk.

4) Sub-optimal nutrition will expose our calf to immune deficiency or dysfunction. Immunity is an energy hungry process. The most common feeding error is underfeeding. As highlighted in our article on scours, overfeeding is rarely a cause of scours, but infectious organisms are the most common. Our earlier article on refractometers and milk solids intake referenced nutritional requirements for health and growth, consistency being a major.

Screening as a daily process for signs of illness or ill-thrift with protocols set out on daily sheets will minimise calf failure. It will also highlight weak links in the system. This is imperative if calf rearers are employed staff. It will give them, the satisfaction of a job well done and enable the farm owner to monitor progress and stumbling blocks.

In the words of Dr Sheila McGuirk DVM University Wisconsin-Madison:

“Don’t think that detection of disease is just good ‘calf sense’, a poor appetite or a computer printout. It is scheduled time with calves by someone that has the time and training to recognise calf illness”.

We have invested significantly in achieving a pregnancy, in genetics and the future productivity of our dairy business. Calf rearing is an equal to cow nutrition/productivity and should be under supervision of qualified and observant people.

Digestive Tract Development in Newborn Calves

Most newborn calves are separated from their mother soon after birth on modern dairy farms. In the first few weeks of life they then consume less milk solids daily than if they were nursed by their mothers. We then expect rapid growth and development of the GI tract to accommodate digestion of solids feeds and early weaning. Natural weaning takes up to ten months. We expect our calf to achieve this in two months.

Enormous research has gone into calf rearing systems to minimise cost and labour rather than focusing on development of the GI tract to digest solid feeds. Right or wrong, our new born calf is certainly “put to the test” during its first few weeks of life. Despite history telling us through ever increasing productivity of our cows we’re doing a better job, however, USDA data highlights mortality rate is still around 10% and morbidity (depressed) near 50%.

There are two challenges a newborn must overcome: 1) they must overcome attacks on their immune systems, 2) transition from a monogastric to a ruminant. Weaning at two months is determined by surviving a pathogen attack in the first few weeks. Digestive disease is number one threat. Gut ailments or infections either end in mortality or expensive antibiotic treatment costs and retard development. Calves are born with little immunity and we have twelve hours to administer colostrum for it to be effective to passive immune transfer.

Even the switch to whole milk or milk replacer immediately after administration of colostrum, robs our calf of hormones, prebiotics and immune stimulants that may aid in development of the GI tract, and are found in fresh cow’s milk for up to a week after calving. There is a strong argument for collecting fresh cow milk for a week post-calving for feeding calves. It is also higher in fats and protein than milk past the first week. If you are using milk replacers, ensure they contain milk fats and proteins avoiding products containing fats and proteins of vegetable origin; they are poorly digested.

A calf should be drinking milk with 12% to 13% solids and at a minimum rate of 10% of their body weight. Calves fed up to 20% of their body weight have been shown to have higher lifetime milk production, but requires multiple daily feedings to avoid gut disease/infection (refer last month’s ‘Rumen Drinking’ article). While being fed as a monogastric on milk, the rumen is rapidly developing. At birth the calf rumen is only 25% of the forestomach. It must reach 70% to enable sound growth on solid feeds. Coarse calf grain mix is most effective for developing the rumen, enabling transformation of our calf’s diet from calories and energy from milk to Volatile Fatty Acids (VFA) from ruminal fermentation. Allowing 4 or 5 kgs of grain consumption post-weaning will accommodate the calf’s need for VFA’s for sustained growth, health and further development of the rumen to allow for digestion of forage which is very limited before six months of age. They will not get acidosis.

Newborn calves that survive pathogenic challenges will naturally develop a functioning rumen and should double their birth weight in sixty days. There is as much art in this as science, as any successful calf rearing person knows.

CALF SCOURS & Misconceptions

Misconception #1 Nutritional scours is a common problem in calves

A generation or two ago, nutritional scours was an issue, but today’s high quality/low cell count milk and calf powdered milks no longer carry scour causing organisms common in the past. Nutritional scours were diagnosed on the basis calves passing high amounts of manure. A calf consuming 0.8 kgs (6 lts x 13% solids) of milk solids daily will pass significant amounts of manure. Nutritional scours can occur through stress. Milk changes, environmental, transport, vaccination, weather, dehorning etc. However, these stress induced scours usually pass in a couple of days.

Misconception #2 Liquid manure is scours

As above, high milk intakes common today will produce liquid manure. Calves that are healthy, active and showing no signs of dehydration are unlikely to have scours.

Misconception #3 Electrolytes don’t work

There are electrolytes on the market that are very light-on in minerals and glucose. Perhaps veterinary advice is warranted here. Quality electrolytes are very effective in rehydration and mineral support when used correctly. They must be fed in between milk feedings as the water content is as important as the minerals.

Misconception #4 Type of scour can be identified by colour

Rotavirus, coronavirus and even increased milk can produce a white scour. Several bacterial strains can produce the same colour scour. Fecal culture is the only way to identify the type of scour.

Misconception #5 Scour type can be identified by calf age

It is true some diseases can occur based on days from birth (eg salmonella, e. coli etc). However, if the calf has a true scour, and not just high volume manure from a high plain of nutrition, then that can happen at any age.

Misconception #6 Reduce feed intake for sick calves

Many years ago the rule was ‘No milk while using electrolyte’. Most calves still died. Why? Starvation! Their energy requirement increases to support an energy-hungry immune system under challenge. Possibly, what had been said, was not to feed milk and electrolytes together.

Environmental hygiene goes without saying. There are a number of products on the market for disinfecting calf sheds. However, the most effective product we have witnessed is Vibrex. (Available from Roy Watson 0428 526 581 )

Ensuring calf nutrition is optimal, that is, timely administration of quality colostrum, that they are receiving adequate milk solids daily (fresh milk can vary – it pays to check – see Feb 20th article on refractometers), add to this CALFMAX containing essential minerals, vitamins, Bovatec, MOS, glucans and galactosamine, and disease and scours can largely be avoided.

Calf Water Intake is Dynamic

A 36 kg calf will lose around 3.8 lts of water from its body in urine, faeces, skin, mouth and respiratory secretions each day. 4 litres of milk intake only provides 3.5 lts of water/day. Without additional water intake over and above milk, the calf will dehydrate and most likely die from disease having easy domination over a water-stressed system.
Add to this, a sick calf with diarrhoea will drink less milk, excrete more water and usually dies of dehydration. If you are feeding electrolytes to scouring calves it is necessary they either drink milk also, or calf starter grain to maintain energy intake or starvation will finish them. Initially, until the calf is drinking from a separate water source, filling the milk feeder with warm water within 10 to 30 minutes of feeding milk will drive water intake. Water temperature does affect intake. Research has demonstrated a 50% increase in water intake when close to body temperature.
There is a direct correlation between water intake and calf grain intake. Research has suggested between 4:1 & 6:1 ratio of water to grain intake. Taking an average of 5:1, our calf must drink 5 litres of water to consume 1 kg of calf grain. A good calf grain mix should supply more energy and protein than milk. Obviously, the faster we have calves increasing water intake, the more grain they will eat and their plain of nutrition (energy & protein) will rise rapidly. Accordingly, growth rate will also accelerate rapidly. By day 56 this ratio is closer to 2:1 through rumen development.
Calf grain intake plays another major role apart from simply increasing energy and protein intake. A course grain mix (as opposed to pelleted) will help increase water intake, but apart from that, starch from grain will produce Volatile Fatty Acids from grain digestion which drives the growth of rumen papillae, the absorption site of nutrient to the blood stream. The faster we develop rumen papillae the sooner the calf can be weaned as it will be capable of digestion solid foods then. We use calf grain intake as the indicator for weaning. A calf consuming 2 kgs of calf grain daily has developed the rumen sufficiently to digest solid feeds and can be weaned. There is a significant cost saving in both feed cost and labour to benefit from by early weaning.
Grain intake must continue to rise post-weaning as the rumen, although developed sufficiently to extract nutrient from grain mixes, it still cannot digest forage adequately to supply the necessary energy and protein for both maintenance and growth. Calves are unable to digest forage well before six months of age. Water intake remains the driver of post-weaning growth by its ratio of 2:1, water to grain, increasing the calf’s rising plane of nutrition correlating growth and development. Water quality also plays a major role in calf growth due to its relation to grain intake.