Evaluation of early weaning concentrate quality on the performance and health of artificially reared beef calves to 12 weeks


Thirty-eight Continental cross Holstein calves were purchased at a mean age of 18.9 days and artificially reared on milk replacer (Shine, Bonanza Calf Nutrition) supplemented with either a standard good quality concentrate containing high levels of starch and soya bean meal or a concentrate formulated with a high fibre content from feedstuffs such as soya hulls with protein supplied primarily from maize gluten, distillers grains and rapeseed meal i.e. an evaluation of ‘good quality’ versus ‘medium quality’ starter pellet. The concentrates were formulated to be iso-nitrogenous (180g CP/kg) and iso-energetic (13.1ME [MJ/kg DM]).

Overall performance of the calves was very good significantly exceeding the target of 122kg for rearing calves to 15 week of age. The 12 week weights for the starch and fibre based concentrates was 139.1 and 136.1kg respectively. This excellent performance is likely to be partially due to the standard of stockmanship and feeding a high quality milk replacer. There was zero calf mortality in the study.

There were no significant differences in calf performance. There was however a numerical improvement in DLWG and liveweight and by 12 weeks the starch fed calves had gained an extra 2.4kg.

There were no significant differences in calf health between the treatments however there was a trend (P=0.09) for an improvement coat bloom with the starch fed calves.

The fibre fed calves recorded higher overall concentrate intakes and due to their slightly poorer performance resulted in a deterioration in the feed conversion ratio (FCR). Feed costs per calf were similar however feed cost per kg gain were lower with the starch based concentrates despite the fibre based concentrate being £8 per tonne cheaper.

It can be concluded calf rearers should offer their calves a good quality starter concentrate based on cereals with the inclusion of some soyabean meal.

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