In addition to management strategies, there are several feed additives to consider
As early as 4 weeks old, the calf starts to transition from a monogastric into the ruminant that it will become. It is well recognized that starter grain intake is critical for rumen development and growth. Fresh water availability and consumption is directly correlated to grain consumption. High-quality hay can be important as well. However, particle length should be kept at 2-3 inches and keep in mind that too much hay may limit grain consumption. An 8:1, grain to hay (by weight) ratio has been suggested as ideal to provide adequate energy while starting to expose the calf to roughage. Between 4-8 weeks of age, the microbial populations in the rumen will begin to stabilize and by 8 weeks the goal is to have a calf that has at least doubled in body weight since birth.
In addition to management strategies, there are several feed additives to consider. Electrolytes will help the calf consume enough water and stay hydrated at the cellular level. Yeast products can help stabilize rumen pH and promote the proper ratio of starch to fiber-digesting bacteria. Ionophores and coccidiostats help prevent and control infection from Coccidia eimeria parasites. Direct-fed microbials (DFM, probiotics) will help build the ideal microbiome in the calf’s gut.
There are many of these feed additive products to consider, but not all are created equal. Work with your veterinarian, nutritionist and other consultants to include products that are science based, research backed and will specifically work in your management system. Give challenged calves the resources they need to overcome stress at weaning time and they will perform well when they join the milking herd.