Optimise rumen development through early calf nutrition

15 Apr 2019

Investing in high quality calf starter feed from three days of age can significantly reduce the cost of rearing and improve weaning success.

So says Wynnstay’s Eimear Diamond, who adds that it’s vital that calf growth and development in the first few months of life, particularly in heifer calves, is optimised to boost lifetime potential and protect future profits.

Rumen development

“This requires a particular focus on rumen development,” she says. “The calf’s digestive system contains all four chambers at birth, but it’s undeveloped and the abomasum is the only active compartment.

“The rumen, reticulum and omasum are inactive, and require nutritional input to develop in order to establish a rumen microbial population and increase rumen volume.

Knock-on effect

“If we don’t put an emphasis on correctly developing the rumen then this will have a knock-on effect throughout the animal’s productive life. It will reduce growth rates, increase the number of days to service, and lower milk yield potential.”

Miss Diamond adds that feeding high-quality starter feed helps to stimulate rumen development and rumen microbial proliferation. “A calf starter feed should be introduced from three days of age to accompany water and milk replacer. But it’s important to note the nutritional content.”

Palatable feed

She explains that starter feed should be palatable, highly digestible, provide optimum levels of starch and natural sugars, and have high levels of undegradable protein. Other key components to look out for include essential minerals and vitamins along with a rumen specific live yeast.

“On-farm research also supports the inclusion of nutritionally improved straw,” adds Miss Diamond. “Start ‘n’ Wean calf starter feed contains NIS, which supports rumen development to boost feed conversion efficiency.

Liveweight gains

“Fed alongside high-quality calf milk replacer, this starter regularly delivers calf daily liveweight gains of between 0.75kg and 1kg per day.”