Effect of milk replacer program on calf performance and digestion of nutrients with age of the dairy calf


Calves fed large amounts of milk replacer (MR) gain more body weight preweaning than calves fed less-aggressive programs; however, postweaning growth may be reduced. Limited research suggests that less than optimal digestion of the postweaned diet due to large amounts of MR with reduced dry feed intake preweaning may contribute to growth impairment postweaning. Current research was conducted to compare growth and postweaning digestion in 3-d-old male Holstein calves fed various MR programs. The MR programs were a conventional [CON; 0.44 kg of dry matter (DM) 21% crude protein (CP), 21% fat powder fed for 42 d], moderate (MOD; 0.66 kg of DM 27% CP, 17% fat powder fed for 42 d), and aggressive program (AGG; up to 0.87 kg of DM 27% CP, 17% fat powder fed for 49 d). All calves were fed a 20% CP textured starter and water ad libitum for 56 d. The trial used 96 calves (initially 41 ± 1.9 kg of body weight) received 5 wk apart in 2 groups of 48 calves. During d 51 to 56, fecal samples were collected from 5 calves per treatment randomly selected from calves in the first group. Selected nutrients and acid-insoluble ash (used as an internal flow marker) were analyzed in the starter and feces to estimate digestibility. Data were analyzed as a randomized complete block design with starting time of each group of calves as a block. Repeated measure analysis was performed on overall (0 to 56 d) data. Means were separated with a protected least significant difference test. Pen was the experimental unit. Calves fed CON had the least average daily gain [CON = 0.35, MOD = 0.51, and AGG = 0.55 kg/d; standard error of the mean (SEM) = 0.018], feed efficiency (CON = 0.35, MOD = 0.49, and AGG = 0.48 gain/feed, SEM = 0.016), and change in hip width (CON = 3.3, MOD = 4.1, and AGG = 4.1 cm, SEM = 0.20) compared with calves fed other programs. Calves fed AGG had the greatest change in BCS and least starter intake compared with calves fed the other programs. Digestibility of organic matter was 79, 78, and 68% and neutral detergent fiber was 54, 51, and 26% for calves fed programs CON, MOD, and AGG, respectively, and were least for calves fed AGG. These results indicate that postweaning digestion is lower than optimal and contributes to lower postweaning growth in calves fed aggressive compared with conventional or moderate MR programs.


Biological Sciences

Publication Date


Journal Title

Journal of Dairy Science



Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

Document Type



© 2016 American Dairy Science Association. Published by Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.