Back to Calf Starter Feed Basics

Management : Weaned Calf

Ted Perry,

Beef Technical Solutions

If you buy calf starter feeds, this may be the first year you’ll purchase under the Veterinary Feed Directive (VFD).

And what may have been a simple feed order in years’ past could now cause some frustration if you plan to use a starter feed containing a VFD-regulated drug.

Instead of getting hung up on whether your starter formulation will include a drug, now is a good time to look at the goals of your weaned calf program and get back to starter feed basics.

Calf starter feeds 101
The single most important job of a starter feed is to get calves to eat. Once calves are eating, their immune systems increase, and they have a better chance of staying healthy through the weaning period. Healthy calves are supported by a quality starter feed, whether the feed contains a drug or not.

Palatability is extremely important when making a feed selection because it’s what drives calves to start and continue eating. A less palatable feed may take a calf three days to really start consuming — that’s 72 hours where a calf’s energy and protein reserves are being depleted and their immune status is in jeopardy. Getting calves eating from day one can help build rumen microbe populations and immune status.

A quality starter feed should have research-proven consumption. When making your starter feed selection, ask questions about palatability and request intake research.

Sorting through cattle feed options
There are a variety of palatable starter feeds available, but make sure you select one to fit your management style and weaned calf goals. Based on your labor resources, feeding facilities and performance goals, you can select either a self-fed or hand-fed starter feed. Complete feeds and supplements are available based on your existing forage.

The Purina® calf starter feeds below provide a convenient solution for any operation:
  • Accuration® Starter Feed: This coarse-textured, complete calf feed includes roughage and utilizes Intake Modifying Technology® to help achieve target intake levels. Accuration® Starter is a high-energy feed that helps maximize feed efficiency. This self-fed feed does not require additional forage and is designed for calves with superior genetics going directly to the feedyard.
  • Precon® Complete Feed: This pelleted complete calf feed includes roughage and is highly palatable and nutrient dense. It gets calves eating quickly to restore nutrients lost through the stress of weaning and shipping. Precon® Complete Feed is designed for calves with moderate genetics or unknown previous management. This feed is also recommended for high-stress or high-risk calves and does not require additional forage.
  • Stress Care® 5 Supplement: This pelleted calf supplement is designed to deliver a potent dose of essential nutrients for stressed cattle in a small inclusion package (five pounds per head per day). Stress Care® 5 Supplement is for producers looking to take advantage of their feedstuffs and is designed to be fed alongside unlimited, good-quality forage.
The three feeds listed are available in medicated and non-medicated forms.

Don’t navigate calf starter feeds alone
When evaluating starter feed options, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Talk through your weaned calf goals with your nutritionist. They can help you identify a starter feed to fit your forage availability, labor resources, feed type preference, feeding facilities and cattle genetics.

Your nutritionist can also help develop a budget, set realistic expectations for your program and help sort through different market scenarios and potential return on investment.

No matter which starter you choose, a weaned calf nutrition program should support healthy calves and more pounds. Calves receiving proper nutrition, whether the feed contains a drug or not, have stronger immune systems and are less likely to get sick.

If you do plan to use a starter feed containing a VFD-regulated drug, it’s critical to have a conversation with your veterinarian and nutritionist now.

It has been said that getting back to basics is the simplest way to find calm in the chaos. This mantra couldn’t be truer for weaned calf programs in a new VFD world. Getting back to starter feed basics can help you navigate this new era and achieve your goals.

Does your nutrition program stack up? Find out with a Proof Pays feeding trial.