The effect of supplementing neonatal heifer calves with varying levels of ECAB on pre-weaning growth performance was investigated. Post-weaning growth was also measured, to determine any carry-over effect of pre-weaning supplementation of ECAB. Forty-eight heifer calves (7 ± 0.4 days old, average liveweight of 39.3 ± 5.3 kg) were utilized in a complete randomised experimental design, comprising 16 calves per pen, randomly allocated to one of the following three treatments: (1) Basal commercial calf starter mix without ECAB (Control); (2) control plus 4 kg/ton of ECAB (Low); and (3) control plus 6 kg/ton of ECAB (High). Calves were group-fed ad libitum for 77 days (11 weeks, pre-weaning period) with free choice access to water and 5.5 L of milk per head per day through an automated feeder. Calves were weighed weekly during the pre-weaning period, after which all calves were then weaned onto the same ryegrass pasture as one group. At approximately 9 months of age, calves were weighed to estimate post-weaning body weight gain. During the pre-weaning period, average daily dry matter feed intake was similar for 4 kg/ton and 6 kg/ton calves (649 g versus 688 g, respectively) and both were greater than that of the control calves (382 g). Average daily gain (ADG) was significantly higher for 4 kg/ton calves compared to 6 kg/ton calves or control calves (0.83 ± 0.03 kg, 0.74 ± 0.03 kg and 0.71 ± 0.03 kg, respectively; p
= 0.0001). Similarly, 4 kg/ton calves had significantly increased chest girth (95.9 ± 0.7 cm), withers height (88.9 ± 0.5 cm), body length (82.9 ± 0.6 cm), and body condition score (1.99 ± 0.12) compared to 6 kg/ton calves (93.4 ± 0.7 cm, 87.4 ± 0.7, 81.5 ± 0.6 cm, and 1.67 ± 0.10, respectively) or control calves (92.9 ± 0.7 cm, 88.2 ± 0.5 cm, 80.1 ± 0.6 cm, and 1.30 ± 0.08, respectively). There was significant treatment × week interaction for all pre-weaning growth parameters. Breed differences were detected but there was no treatment × breed interaction. Post-weaning, 4 kg/t calves and 6 kg/t calves had significantly higher ADG compared to control calves (0.80 ± 0.03 kg, 0.85 ± 0.03 kg versus 0.70 ± 0.03 kg, respectively; p
= 0.0047). It is concluded that under the conditions of this study, supplementing heifer calves with ECAB during pre-weaning period resulted in improved growth performance and there appears to be a post-weaning carry-over effect.
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