Avoiding the Post-Weaning Slump in Dairy Calves

Bob Judd, DVM, DABVP (Equine Medicine), DABVP (Canine and Feline Practice)
Courtesy of Texas Farm Bureau Radio Network

Date Published: 12/02/2021
Although getting dairy calves to weaning time is not easy, the job is not quite done since many calves will also have problems after weaning. Dr. Donna Amaral-Phillips from the University of Kentucky stated on bovinevetonline that 50% of the lifetime stature growth and 25% of lifetime weight gain occurs in the first six months of a dairy calf’s life, so the time just after weaning is important. There are several recommendations to decrease stress in post-weaning calves, including only making one change at a time. For example, make ration changes and allow the calves to get used to the new ration before you make housing changes. Slowly introduce new feeds by starting off with a high protein starter until calves are eating ten pounds per day. Slowly transition to a high protein grower feed and free choice hay over a three week period. Many calves are fed grain mixes with protein less than 14%, but these low-protein rations do not allow adequate protein intake when paired with forages that are less than 20% protein. Switching to a diet with hay or silage immediately at weaning can decrease development of the rumen so feed some grain until the calf is six months old which allows the rumen time to develop. Calves may gain weight and be more productive if you add anti-parasitic medication in the feed that kills coccidia, a major protozoan parasite in calves that causes diarrhea and blood in the stool.

Keep calves in the same groups after weaning if possible. Limit the number of calves to six in a group to decrease stress. Dairy calves also need plenty of room so make sure calves two to four months of age have 18 inches of bunk space per head. The area should be dry with good footing. Making gradual changes, one at a time during the weeks post-weaning will give calves the best chance to adjust and thrive.