Youngstock feeding strategy

The goal of the activity was to develop an optimal domestic feed-based feeding strategy for youngstock on loose housed dairy farms.

Over the past couple of decades, consistent and efficient breeding has been carried out in Estonia to increase the production capacity of dairy cattle, which has resulted in significant changes to the dairy herds here. Calves possess excellent genetic potential. They have the potential to feed well, grow and develop quickly, and produce high milk yields during lactation periods, and high longevity. All of this must be supported by well designed and delivered feed. There has been limited research on the feeding of young cattle in Estonia during this period of rapid change. A comprehensive research approach is essential to enable more efficient and sustainable reproduction in Estonian dairy herds. The strategy described aims to fill this gap in our knowledge.

To prepare the strategy:

  • the results of previous experiments performed at the Estonian University of Life Sciences (including experiments with whole milk replacer and starter feed) were analysed;
  • the practical experience of those engaged in this research and analysis of the scientific literature on this topic were used;
  • a survey was conducted among livestock farmers regarding the ideal weight and age of their heifers that dairy farmers hoped to have at first calving;
  • a two-year production trial was organized on three loose-housed farms. Within the study, heifers’ production performances responses to feeding gave feedback into the success of the feeding changes made. The amounts of the different nutritional factors required by heifers during specific stages of their lives was assessed. The growth and development of young animals was monitored throughout the project, during different stages of life, and on all sampled farms. On a regular basis the following factors were assessed: the chemical composition and the assessment of the nutritional value of feeds, the optimization of feed quantities and nutrients for heifers of different ages and the preparation of feed rations, recording of the number and the age distribution of youngstock in different feeding groups, the assessment of mean feed intakes in the feeding groups, and weighing and monitoring the health of the animals.

The result of this work is a youngstock feeding strategy (including proposed concentrations of the different nutritional factors) for loose-housed young cattle on dairy farms. For each month of the animal’s life the strategy proposes:

  • the recommended body weight and daily weight gain for rearing young dairy cattle;
  • dry matter intakes and recommended concentrations of the main nutritional factors per kilogram of the ration in dry matter.

The document also includes:

  • Recommendations for amounts of colostrum to be fed, according to its quality parameters;
  • Recommended nutrient factor contents in whole milk replacer and starter feed per kg of dry matter;
  • a description of the feeding of young animals at different life stages: from birth to weaning; from weaning to 9 months of age; from 9 months to insemination (14 months); from insemination to close-up (15-23 months); and during the close-up period (24 months).

For the productive rearing of young animals it is strongly recommended that all animals be periodically weighed and their daily weight gain calculated. If animals cannot be weighed on a monthly basis, then this must definitely be done during the important stages of the young animal’s life – at birth, during weaning, insemination, and calving. By doing so, we can get clear feedback from the animals on the effectiveness of the feeding strategy used. It also reflects the health status of the young animals. The more frequent weighing of animals allows us to more quickly identify mistakes that have been made and allows for more efficient management measures to correct problems.

When planning the construction of a new young animal housing building, it is expedient to carefully work out the entire scheme for the movement of the animals during the planning stage, to plan the location of the weighing scales, as well as to take into account the possibility of automatic weighing. Doing so allows for significant savings later on when it comes to the time and labour costs involved in weighing.
The strategy was completed at the end of 2019, as the result of a two-year cooperative endeavour between the Estonian Dairy Cluster and the Estonian University of Life Sciences. Researchers from the Estonian University of Life Sciences, under the guidance of the Chair of Animal Nutrition of the Institute of Veterinary Medicine and Animal Sciences, Associated Professor Meelis Ots, were responsible for its creation.

A broadcast of the Dairy Cluster feeding day (in Estonian), which took place on 30.04.2020, can be found here.
You can download the feeding strategy as a separate document (in Estonian) here.