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Journal of the South African Veterinary Association

Print version ISSN 1019-9128

Abstract

UYS, J L; LOURENS, D C  and  THOMPSON, P N. The effect of unrestricted milk feeding on the growth and health of Jersey calves. J. S. Afr. Vet. Assoc. [online]. 2011, vol.82, n.1, pp. 47-52. ISSN 1019-9128.

This study was conducted to determine the effect of feeding high milk volumes on the growth rate, health and cross-sucking behaviour in group-fed Jersey calves. Three-day-old heifers (n = 120) in a seasonal calving dairy herd were randomly assigned to one of 6 treatment groups. Three groups received high milk volumes (HMV), consisting of ad libitum milk or milk replacer feeding twice a day, while 3 groups received restricted milk volumes (RMV), consisting of 2ℓ twice daily, during the pre-weaning period. After a pre-weaning period during which feeding was reduced to once daily, all calves were weaned at 42 days and monitored until 60 days of age. Adjusting for birth mass, birth date, dam parity and sire, average daily mass gain (ADG), both pre-weaning (days 0-42) and overall (days 0-60), was higher in HMV than in RMV calves (P < 0.001). After weaning, growth rates showed no differences and at 60 days of age the HMV calves maintained a 6.74 kg advantage in mean body mass (P < 0.001). The mean intake of dry starter feed was higher in RMV than in HMV calves. Overall feed conversion rate of HMV calves was 9.6 % better than RMV calves. However, the variable cost per kg mass gain was 12 % higher for HMV calves. In the RMV groups 75 % of calves showed cross-sucking behaviour pre-weaning and 18 % post-weaning, whereas in HMV calves the proportions were 2 % and 7 %, respectively. There was no significant effect of milk volume on the incidence of diarrhoea. We conclude that the feeding of high volumes of milk to Jersey calves has a positive effect on growth rate, without compromising health or reducing solid feed intake after weaning. However, the higher cost of such a feeding system may limit its implementation.

Keywords : cross-sucking; dairy calves; growth rate; health; unrestricted milk feeding.

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