Step 4:

Proper feeding after
first colostrum

Effective feeding after the colostrum

The calf needs to start developing its active immunity straight after the colostrum feed. A good follow-up is therefore very important. In the practical situation, feeding on days 2 and 3 is frequently underestimated.

The greatest diversity in calves at various farms can be seen in the first week, mainly due to major differences in the approach taken following the initial colostrum feed. A few years ago, feeding was limited in the first week in order to avoid problems with diarrhoea. Limited feeding results in less manure and thereby the impression of less problems. However, a consequence is that the calves do not have sufficient energy for maintenance and growth.

Focussed feeding for growth.

After the initial colostrum, the digestive system must be activated and the calf must develop its own immunity. Nutrition plays an essential role here. A calf requires the equivalent of 500 grams of milk powder on day 2, which equals 4 litres of transition milk.

It must grow in order to strengthen the intestinal tract. The calf's growth can also be translated into development of all organs, including the digestive system and the immune system. Focussed feeding for growth is therefore the name of the game in those first days.

2 times 3 litres of milk from the second milking

Once colostrum has been fed according to protocol, effective follow-up feeding is important. The most simple method is to feed 2 times 3 litres of milk per day. This requires milk from the second milking of the cow, warm and obviously fed from a clean rearing bucket.

This second milking milk is still richer in fats and proteins than normal milk, and also contains immunoglobulins. These immunoglobulins are no longer absorbed into the bloodstream, instead they combat harmful bacteria in the intestine and reinforce the intestinal wall, effectively stopping the causes of diarrhoea. Many dairy farmers feed calves with diarrhoea an extra 0.5 to 1 litre of colostrum per day. It is a tried and trusted solution which is effective.

Most Holstein calves weigh approximately 40 kg at birth. This can be considerably less for other breeds, and the volume of milk per feed should be adapted to the lower birth weight.

Calf only grows from milk in week 1

In the first week of its life, the calf needs milk to grow. Faeces from calves fed only milk are somewhat thinner and more yellow than when concentrated feed is given.  If you feed 2 times 3 litres, the calf will receive sufficient nutrients. The faeces will often be thinner, but of an even consistency. This is not diarrhoea, it is normal for a calf of a few days old.

Concentrated feed is not necessary in the first 3 to 5 days, and should not be started until after the first week. Roughage is not at all needed in this phase, and can wait until after 2 weeks. It is important to provide water however: start this on day 3.

Make the most of calf milk replacer

How to aim at the best possible growth directly after birth of your calves? Ask the Sprayfo rearing specialist in your region! 

Direct advice