CALF NUTRITION: Give Calf Starter Routines a Spring Tune-Up

By Robin Steiner

CALF NUTRITION: Give Calf Starter Routines  a Spring Tune-Up


Set your calves up to reach growth and development goals

Is your calf starter routine designed to help calves reach their full potential? Are you setting calves up to become high producing cows? Or is there room for improvement?

When fed correctly, the right calf starter can have a tremendous impact on height, weight, proper rumen development and future milk production. Set your calves up to reach growth and development goals with the following calf starter tips.

Offer starter soon after birth

A calf’s first taste of starter should occur soon after they’re born. Begin offering a handful of starter when calves are between one and three days of age. Once the calf’s appetite takes off, feed increasing amounts of starter. Feed a 22 percent protein, palatable starter grain.

Calves should always have access to starter. Feed enough starter to avoid empty buckets between feedings and use shallow buckets or bowls to help calves easily reach starter. Remember, the amount of starter feed calves need varies by breed, season and the volume of milk or milk replacer fed.

Keep feed clean and fresh

Calves appreciate a meal that looks and smells tasty. Merely topping off buckets without routinely discarding leftover feed can produce a layer of moldy feed and reduce consumption. Providing fresh starter daily and replenishing as necessary encourage appetites and keeps calves eating.

Provide water – always

Imagine eating a peanut butter sandwich without a beverage. It’s not nearly as appetizing, is it? The same is true for a calf eating starter with no water to wash it down. Keeping clean water in front of calves at all times is vital for maximizing starter intake. Provide four pounds of water for every pound of starter a calf eats.

Use consumption to inform
weaning time

When weaning calves, age shouldn’t be the only factor. Consider the amount of starter a calf is eating, too. As you gradually reduce the amount of milk replacer fed, increase the amount of starter provided. Calves weaned at six weeks should be consuming 2–3 pounds of starter per calf per day for three consecutive days before weaning. If weaned past eight weeks of age, 4–5 pounds of starter per calf per day should be consumed.¹

Continue feeding starter until at least 12 weeks to encourage feed consumption through the stress of weaning, grouping, moving, vaccinating and dehorning. Then, transition calves to a high-quality grower feed to continue rumen development.

Select the right starter

There are many calf starters to choose from, so how do you decide which one is best for your calves? Look beyond the nutrition label and take some time to learn about feed technologies and their supporting research. This will help you uncover superior products that yield the greatest performance.

For optimum performance, a complete calf nutrition program should:

  • Stimulate intake
  • Meet energy density needs
  • Encourage rumen development
  • Ease transitions
  • Boost immunity
  • Increase beneficial bacteria
  • Set the calf up for lifetime success

Consider seasonal needs

Your calves face additional challenges during hot and cold weather. Adjust your management practices to maintain growth during harsh climate changes and weather extremes. Make sure your starter practices keep fly populations away in the hot summer and rations edible in the cold winter. These practices will support maintenance, immune function and growth.

High-producing cows start with a sound and well-managed calf feeding program. Calf starter is an important part of that. Take your calf program to the next level by fine-tuning your starter routine to help develop healthier calves that grow up to become productive, profitable cows. Q

¹ Dairy Calf and Heifer Association (DCHA) Gold Standards. 2016. 2nd Edition.

Robin Steiner is a Calf and Heifer Specialist for Purina Animal Nutrition in Ohio, Indiana and Illinois. She can be reached at [email protected].



CALF NUTRITION: Give Calf Starter Routines  a Spring Tune-Up

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