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Comparison of the effects of high and low milk-replacer feeding regimens on health and growth of crossbred dairy heifers

Johnson, K. F., Nair, R. V. and Wathes, D. C. (2019) Comparison of the effects of high and low milk-replacer feeding regimens on health and growth of crossbred dairy heifers. Animal Production Science, 59 (9). pp. 1648-1659. ISSN 1836-0939

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To link to this item DOI: 10.1071/AN18432


Context: Pre-weaning growth in dairy heifers is highly dependent on the amount of milk fed. Both milk replacer (MR) and associated labour are costly, encouraging restricted milk rations and once-a-day feeding. Aims: This study compared performance relating to the growth and health of calves receiving one of two commercial feeding regimens: High or Low. Methods: All heifers born during the Spring (January–March) calving block on a commercial UK farm with mixed-breed genetics were recruited at birth, randomly assigned to the High (n = 104, receiving MR-A) or Low (n = 88, receiving MR-B) feed group and reared indoors on straw bedding, with free access to concentrate. Both groups initially received MR twice daily. The High group continued to receive MR twice daily throughout the experiment, whereas the Low group calves were reduced to a single MR feed daily during Weeks 4–8. Blood samples were taken in Weeks 1 and 6 to assess passive transfer and measure circulating insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF1). The Wisconsin calf-scoring system was used to assess health of calves in Weeks 1, 2, 4, 6 and 8 and at 6 months and size was also measured at these times. Data were analysed by univariate and multivariate models. Key results: Passive transfer was good in both groups (serum total protein (mean ± s.d.) 60.9 ± 9.1 mg/mL) with no differences in pre-weaning disease incidence; diarrhoea occurred in 64.5% and bovine respiratory disease in 26.3% of calves. High group calves were significantly heavier, taller and longer at all pre-weaning examinations except recruitment owing to more growth in the first month, and remained significantly larger at 6 months: weight 157 ± 8 vs 149 ± 7 kg, height 103 ± 5 vs 100 ± 5 cm, length 90 ± 4 vs 88 ± 5 cm. Plasma IGF1 concentrations at around Week 6 were doubled in the High group (101 ± 38.6 vs 55 ± 34.1 ng/mL). Bovine respiratory disease was associated with reduced weight gain. Heifers with diarrhoea were leaner at weaning. High feed group, weight at recruitment and good passive transfer were positively associated with weight at 6 months. Conclusions: Higher feeding levels pre-weaning increased growth rates and IGF1, although the disease incidence was unaffected. Implications: Previous studies have shown that more growth and higher IGF1 pre-weaning are associated with a lower age at first calving and an increased chance of reaching the end of first lactation. These in turn improve long-term performance.

Item Type:Article
Divisions:Life Sciences > School of Agriculture, Policy and Development > Department of Animal Sciences > Animal, Dairy and Food Chain Sciences (ADFCS)- DO NOT USE
ID Code:90517
Publisher:CSIRO Publishing


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