NUTRITIONAL STRATEGIES FOR RECEIVING AND FEEDING EARLY-WEANED CALVES
Francis L. Fluharty
- Provide clean water and grass-legume hay directly off the truck and allow cattle a rest
period before processing them. Adding an electrolyte solution to the water calves drink
immediately off the truck is a good way to restore needed sodium and potassium salts.
- Receiving diets should have .3 ppm Selenium and 1.0% Potassium on a dry matter basis,
because of low feed intake.
- Provide 1.0 to 1.5 ft of bunk space per calf if possible.
- Urea can be added up to .5% of diet dry matter, but higher levels may depress feed
- Ionophores should not be used (at the upper levels they are approved for) during the
first 14 days due to reductions in feed intake, however, lower levels may be beneficial in
- Research at OARDC has shown that feed intake on stressed calves is severely reduced
during the first week. Therefore, receiving diets for calves should be approximately
16-18% crude protein, on a dry matter basis, for the first seven days. The protein
concentration used should be increased to the upper levels of this range with highly
stressed calves that have very low feed intakes. After the second week, feed intake
increases and the crude protein can be dropped to 16% of diet dry matter. After the calves
reach their normal weaning age, the crude protein level can be reduced to 14%, since the
cattle should be on full feed by then.
- After cattle have reached approximately 1.5% of body weight in feed intake (dry matter
basis), increase the amount of feed offered every other day. Increases should be no more
than 10% of intake. High-concentrate diets require that calves are brought on feed more
slowly than high-forage diets. Bringing calves onto feed more slowly will help prevent
acidosis and reduce nutritional stress.
- Soybean meal is normally the protein source of choice due to cost and availability, but
using a source of rumen bypass protein such as blood meal, corn gluten meal or fish meal
in combination with soybean meal is acceptable.
- Feeding hay during the receiving period reduces the energy density of the diet. Intake
is the main problem during this feeding phase. Therefore, a 70 to 85% concentrate diet
should be fed to ensure the calves have adequate energy intakes (Remember that corn silage
is approximately 50% concentrate and 50% roughage on a dry matter basis).
- Microbial data from OARDC indicates that cattle do not have a need for hay in order to
increase their bacterial numbers after feed and water deprivation and transportation. In
fact, a higher energy, protein dense diet provides the bacteria with more substrate to
- Receiving diets should be formulated to provide the animal with the actual amount of
protein required (in grams) rather than a percentage of protein in the diet during the
first two weeks. Therefore, the level of feed intake should determine the % protein fed.
- Corn silage is fine, but it MUST be kept fresh. Clean out feed bunks daily and remember
not to push feed to the back of the bunks where calves can't reach it. Keep feed about in
the middle of the feed bunk.
Feed Bunk Management and Feed Intake Control
"The most important operation in the feedlot"
Defined as the supervision and execution of determining and delivering, in an
acceptable and consistent manner, the amount of feed that an animal can consume in a given
period of time.
1. Maximize animal performance.
2. Minimize digestive disorders.
3. Keep animals consuming a consistent amount of feed.
Good bunk management increases feed efficiency and lowers cost of gain.
Feed Bunk Scoring System
||Bunk empty for more than 1 hour
||Bunk empty for less than 1 hour
||A few fines or clumps of feed in the bunk
||Less than 1 inch of feed in the bunk
||Less than 2 inches of feed in the bunk
||Less than 3 inches of feed in the bunk
Normally, feed is given on a weight per head basis and multiplied by the number of head
in the pen.
Prior to cold fronts, animals feed intake increases dramatically, and
decreases after the front passes.
Feed should be fresh!
If animals rush the bunk when fed, they are probably being underfed.
If animals have no interest in coming to the bunk when they are fed,
they are probably being overfed, or there is spoiled feed in their bunk.
Bunks containing spoiled feed or "fines" should be cleaned
If fines are constantly a problem, consider adding molasses, silage
or other wet feeds to the diet to decrease the sorting of mineral and vitamin supplements.
Clean waterers are necessary to maximize feed intake.
Many of these rules also apply to self feeders.
- Follow the 10% rule. Never increase or decrease the amount of feed
offered by more than 5-10%.
- Always allow 1 day between increases or decreases in feed offered to
allow animals an adjustment period.
- If the score is 0-, for two consecutive days, increase the
amount of feed by 5-10%.
- Dry feeds may be fed once daily.
- High moisture feeds may need to be fed twice daily to avoid spoiling
in hot weather, and freezing in cold weather.
- Animals not being fed enough will engorge when fed, and this leads to
acidosis and the "yo-yo" effect of over-eating and under-eating. This
decreases animal performance and animal health.
For Farm Fresh Calves That Are Not Trucked:
Start the calves on 4 pounds/head of a corn/supplement mix formulated to be 16-18%
Start calves on 2.0 to 3.0 pounds/head/day of hay, and then top dress the concentrate
mix. As calves consume more concentrate, back off the amount of hay fed to 1.5 to 2.0
pounds per day.
If they do not eat the mix, weigh back the uneaten concentrate into a large bucket (we
use 30 gallon rubbermaid trash cans). If the uneaten feed looks pretty similar to the
original mix (no sorting), it can be re-mixed with new concentrate mix so that there is
little feed wasted, but be sure that you take into account the pounds of uneaten feed that
you are re-feeding, and don't give them that plus the normal amount of new feed, or they
will be fed too much.
Don't increase intake by more than 1 pound of concentrate/head/day, even if the feed is
cleaned up in a couple of hours. Also, don't feed more than 2-3 pounds of hay/head/day.
This concentrate feed is what allows rapid gains (not hay), but the cattle must be
adjusted to the diet slowly.
Keep a feed record book with the daily amounts of concentrate offered, hay offered,
concentrate refused, and hay refused. This is the only way to actually know intake. If the
amount of refused feed is guessed and not weighed, the data is useless. Once the calves
are on feed, I would expect little or no refused feed. In a properly managed feed bunk,
the calves should clean up the feed in approximately 18-24 hours.
For More Information:
Francis L. Fluharty
Department of Animal Sciences
OARDC/OSU Wooster, OH 44691
Phone: (330) 263-3904
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