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Appropriate Dairy Calf Feeding from Birth to Weaning: “It’s an Investment for the Future”

Animal Production, Welfare and Veterinary Sciences Department, Harper Adams University, Newport, Shropshire TF10 8NB, UK
School of Veterinary Medicine and Science, University of Nottingham, Sutton Bonington Campus, Leicestershire LE12 5RD, UK
School of Veterinary Medicine, College of Medical, Veterinary and Life Sciences, University of Glasgow, Garscube Campus, Bearsden Road, Glasgow G61 1QH, UK
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Animals 2020, 10(1), 116;
Received: 28 November 2019 / Revised: 18 December 2019 / Accepted: 3 January 2020 / Published: 10 January 2020
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Calf and Heifer Feeding and Management)
Research has indicated that dairy farms often do not feed calves according to recommended best practice, despite legislation and industry advisory efforts. This study used interviews with dairy farmers and their advisors to investigate why farmers feed calves the way they do. Various calf feeding practices were used by participating farmers, largely based on perceived convenience and calf performance. Advisors were concerned that calves were commonly underfed, which may be partly due to farmers receiving inadequate instructions for calf feeding. Our results highlight the need for more consistent and effective recommendations for farmers regarding calf feeding and weaning. Standard guidelines for calf milk replacers should be improved to ensure that calves are fed enough to support basic biological functions and growth. Further research is needed to establish best practices for weaning calves whilst supporting rumen development, health and weight gain. All recommendations for calf feeding should facilitate the achievement of standard industry targets including rearing replacement dairy heifers to calve by 24 months of age.
Dairy calves must be fed appropriately to meet their nutritional needs, supporting optimal growth and development to achieve the recommended target age at first calving (AFC) of 24 months. Traditional restricted milk feeding practices suppress growth, contribute to negative welfare states and may result in malnutrition and immunosuppression. Despite more recent recommendations to increase milk allowances for pre-weaned calves, restricted feeding remains a common practice. This study explored the rationales behind the calf feeding protocols used by dairy farmers in England. Forty qualitative interviews (26 farmers, 14 advisors) were conducted between May 2016 and June 2017, transcribed in full, then coded into themes. Results indicate that a variety of calf feeding regimes are used on farms, largely determined by farmers’ attitudes regarding ease of management and the wellbeing of calves. Advisors were concerned about widespread underfeeding of calves, which may be partially due to insufficiently clear recommendations for calf milk replacer (CMR) feeding rates. There was also evidence of uncertainty regarding best practices for weaning calves. Collaboration between academic research and industry is essential to establish a consensus on calf feeding standards which support physiological function, facilitate weaning, support growth targets and ensure calf health and welfare is protected. View Full-Text
Keywords: dairy calf feeding; health; welfare; nutrition; stakeholder attitudes dairy calf feeding; health; welfare; nutrition; stakeholder attitudes
MDPI and ACS Style

Palczynski, L.J.; Bleach, E.C.L.; Brennan, M.L.; Robinson, P.A. Appropriate Dairy Calf Feeding from Birth to Weaning: “It’s an Investment for the Future”. Animals 2020, 10, 116.

AMA Style

Palczynski LJ, Bleach ECL, Brennan ML, Robinson PA. Appropriate Dairy Calf Feeding from Birth to Weaning: “It’s an Investment for the Future”. Animals. 2020; 10(1):116.

Chicago/Turabian Style

Palczynski, Laura J., Emma C. L. Bleach, Marnie L. Brennan, and Philip A. Robinson. 2020. "Appropriate Dairy Calf Feeding from Birth to Weaning: “It’s an Investment for the Future”" Animals 10, no. 1: 116.

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