June 12, 2024

Nutrition impacts development of young calves

GRAY SUMMIT, Mo. — Researchers are evaluating the impacts of different feeding programs for young dairy-beef cross calves.

“We started looking at dairy-beef cross calves in mid-2019,” said Olivia Genther-Schroeder, dairy feed research and development senior manager for Purina.

“We know a lot about raising Holstein calves, but we don’t know a lot about raising beef calves because the cow does it for us,” said Genther-Schroeder during Media Day at the Purina Animal Nutrition Center. “We’ve learned quite a bit about those differences.”

From 175 to 200 calves can be fed at the calf milk replacer unit at the center.

“We weigh and sonogram those calves,” added Kevin Kapelski, national farm production consultant leader for Purina. “From there they go to Oklahoma State and we follow them all the way through for carcass data.”

“The dairy-beef cross calves came out of the same pool of Holstein genetics and the majority were crossed with Angus or Angus/Simmental,” Genther-Schroeder said. “We found that these calves follow their genetics.”

At Purina, the researchers are focusing on calves during the first 12 weeks of age.

“We looked at a variety of feeding programs from 1.2 pounds of milk solids up to 2.5 pounds of milk solids per day,” Genther-Schroeder said. “And we looked at weaning at seven or eight weeks of age within each plane of nutrition.”

Researchers are also evaluating different types of technologies, different amounts of protein and different types of protein.

“And we did some work with starters mostly focused on crude protein,” Genther-Schroeder said.

One of the findings is that dairy-beef cross calves respond well to additional crude protein.

“If I increase the crude protein concentration of a starter by two points to Holstein calves, I will probably see a difference, but generally it will be pretty small,” Genther-Schroeder said.

“We see a much larger response in dairy-beef cross calves because they are really building muscle and we know that because we do ultrasounds on the calves.”

“We found our best compromise between really great growth, as well as cost per pound of gain is feeding 1.8 pounds of solids to eight weeks of age along with a starter of 20 to 21% crude protein,” she said. “But this is an area we’re not done with.”

For the dairy industry, Genther-Schroeder said, researchers understand the impacts on milk production two to four years later when calves are fed better nutrition.

“We’re really starting to build that story with these dairy-beef cross calves,” Genther-Schroeder said.

“There’s a great amount of gut maturation and immune system development going on in the first few months of life, and even development of things like muscle tissue,” she said.

“Even though a lot of that is set before birth, there’s still a window we can make a difference with something as simple as nutrition.”

Beef calves have a really long weaning period.

“They start consuming grass and maybe some creep feed around two months of age until the calf is 5 months old,” Genther-Schroeder said. “It’s a long, gradual transition.”

“Dairy calves and dairy-beef cross calves are go through a week of weaning and get dry feed so it’s a very different scenario between these groups of calves,” she said.

It is important for packers and feedlot owners to understand that the value of improving the nutrition fed to dairy-beef cross calves.

“I know that milk is good for calves, good for their development, great for their gut and it makes them healthier in general,” Genther-Schroeder said. “But whoever is feeding and paying for the additional nutrition of the calves needs to get paid for what they’re doing.”

“I think it’s interesting that it took so long to take off because we’re bringing so much additional value to the Holstein steer by just making it half beef,” she said.

“We’re getting more yield out of the same number of animals which is critical for the success of both industries,” Genther-Schroeder said. “Dairy-beef cross calves at week two have the same ribeye area as a Holstein calf at eight weeks on the same nutrition program.”

“I’m very excited about this area of research and to learn more about how we treat the calf early on and what that means long term,” she said.

Martha Blum

Martha Blum

Field Editor