Journal of animal science

The effect of restricted milk feeding through conventional or step-down methods with or without forage provision in starter feed on performance of Holstein bull calves.

PMID 26440178


The objective of the current study was to examine whether step-down (STP) milk feeding method together with forage provision would improve performance, rumen fermentation, nutrient digestibility, blood metabolites, and structural growth of calves. Holstein bull calves ( = 40) were randomly assigned to 1 of 4 treatments in a completely randomized design with a 2 × 2 factorial arrangement. Treatments were 1) conventional (COV) milk feeding without forage provision (COV-NF), 2) COV milk feeding with forage provision, 3) STP milk feeding without forage provision, and 4) STP milk feeding with forage provision. Calves in the COV method ( = 20) received 5.5 L/d milk until d 56 of age followed by 2 L/d milk from d 56 to 59 of age. Calves in the STP method ( = 20) received 7 L/d milk until d 35, 4 L/d milk from d 35 to 48, and 2 L/d milk from d 50 to 59 of age. All the calves received the starter ration from d 3 of the study until d 74 of age. Forage-supplemented calves ( = 10/milk feeding method) received 15% alfalfa hay mixed with finely ground starter as a total mixed ration. All calves were weaned on d 60 of age and remained in the study until d 74. Regardless of the milk feeding method, the final BW (92.54 vs. 83.14 kg/d), starter intake (0.90 vs. 0.65 kg/d), total DMI (1.43 vs. 1.17 kg/d), and ADG (0.73 vs. 0.60 kg/d) were greater ( < 0.01) in forage-supplemented calves than those that received no forage during the preweaning, postweaning, and overall periods. Milk feeding method had no effect on ruminal pH, total VFA, acetate, or acetate:propionate ratio as well as body measurements. Ruminal pH and the molar proportions of acetate were greater ( < 0.05) in the forage-supplemented calves than those that received no forage during the pre- and postweaning periods. Regardless of forage provision, STP methods increased ( < 0.05) the postweaning numbers of monocytes and lymphocytes. Overall, there was no interaction between milk feeding methods and forage provision with respect to BW, DMI, G:F, apparent nutrient digestibility (DM, OM, and CP), and body measurements. The interaction of milk feeding method and forage provision was significant for the rumen concentration of butyrate ( < 0.05), with the highest concentration for the COV-NF treatment on d 35 of the study. In conclusion, independent of the milk feeding method, inclusion of 15% alfalfa hay in starter diets enhances the performance of dairy calves.