Calf feeding statement

Giving a dairy calf colostrum

Ruminant Health and Welfare (RH&W) would like to reiterate the legal requirement for providing calves with at least two milk feeds a day until 28 days of age.

The reminder from the RH&W steering group comes at a time of severe cost pressure in the sector, leading to debate on social media about whether farmers can switch to once-a-day feeding of milk to calves in the first 28 days of their life.

The majority of dairy farmers follow best practice guidelines and the legal requirement to provide calves a milk ‘liquid’ feed at least twice a day during the first month and beyond, and in the main they are adhering to instructions from milk replacer manufacturers.

However, RH&W believes there is still a need to reiterate the importance of wholesale adoption of the ‘twice a day’ guidance on feeding replacement milk powder or indeed whole milk to young calves.

While historically reports have shown feeding of calves has been inconsistent (FAWC report 2015), it is now recommended that dairy calves are fed significantly more milk or milk powder than in the past.

This is very important for the health and wellbeing of the calf as they develop, but also for weight gain and growth as it’s well known that young animals have a more efficient feed conversion ratio compared to older animals.

The foundations for a heifer’s future performance is established at a very early stage in its life, so sufficient milk feeding is a worthwhile investment.

Once-a-day feeding of calves is in fact illegal and contravenes Red Tractor and other farm assurance scheme standards. It is also considered to potentially lead to abomasal disorders.

RH&W is reminding all dairy farmers and calf rearers that in the first month of life, a calf must be fed two liquid feeds a day until the rumen is sufficiently developed (at around 28 days) in order to enable fibrous food to be digested and offer sufficient nutrition moving forwards.

However, post 28 days, once calves are consuming reasonable amounts of starter and fibre, milk feeds can be reduced, as concentrate and forage will start to constitute part of the twice daily feeding requirements moving forwards.

There have been claims made in the past that once-a-day feeding speeds up rumen development but the Animal Welfare Council could find no evidence of this.