National Beef Association
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Recent research work with once-a-day feeding milk systems at Harper Adams University

Category: Calf Rearing

A recent letter in the Veterinary Record (2 February 2013) has caused some concern regarding the legal position of once-a-day milk feeding systems. It stated “it is illegal to feed calves under four weeks of age less than twice daily with liquid milk replacer”. This statement has now been retracted by Defra. At Harper Adams University two calf trials are carried out each year with batches of 40-50 dairy-bred calves that form the basis of final year BSc dissertations on performance, health and behaviour. We have recently carried out 2 experiments feeding calves either once or twice a day with calf milk replacer (CMR) – not whole milk. 

Results from Once-a-day milk replacer feeding systems evaluation

In both experiments the calves were fed the same quantity of CMR for example 3 litres a day of milk mixed at 20% strength fed once or 5 litres mixed at 12% strength given in 2 feeds. In the 1st study the calves started on the once-a-day feeding system at 5 days old and recorded significantly poorer performance from start to 3 weeks. In the 2nd study the calves were 21 days old at the start of the experiment and the once-a-day calves recorded significantly improved performance. By 12 weeks i.e. when the calves were 15 weeks old, the once and twice-a-day fed calves weighed 132.2kg and 124.4kg respectively. There were no significant differences in the health of the calves.

Offering good quality 18%CP early weaning concentrates ad libitum is required with all calf rearing systems. In practice we find that calves don’t touch concentrates until they are a week old. By 3 weeks old they are typically eating 0.25kg per day and by 5 weeks 0.55kg/day. This therefore constitutes calves being fed more than once per day.

Water intakes were measured in the second study and it was found that the once-a-day feed calves drank significantly more. However when water intake was measured taking into account the water provided by the reconstituted milk replacer there were no differences in fluid intake.   

Our conclusions and recommendations with once-a-day milk feeding systems are therefore as follows:

  • Consider once-a-day feeding on milk powder based regimes with calves over 3 weeks old.
  • On once-a-day systems milk is fed with a higher concentration/mix rate of CMR feeding the calves the same quantity of powder (500-750g/d) as would have been given feeding twice per day. Feeding whole milk is therefore not suitable
  • Once-a-day fed calves must have access to fresh clean water and good quality 18%CP concentrates
  • Labour inputs were reduced by 42-49% with once-a-day feeding
  • Once-a-day feeding needs a high level of stockmanship to quickly identify any calves that are not thriving.  

Simon Marsh, Harper Adams University
Tel No: 01952 815213 Fax No: 01952 814783
Email [email protected]
13 March 2013