Weaning Calves? Know Your Starter Feed Basics

Management : Weaned Calf

Ted Perry,

Beef Technical Solutions

The single most important job of a starter feed is to get calves to eat. When weaning calves, getting them eating from day one can help equip their immune systems to better deal with stress and improve their chance to stay healthy.

Calf Starter Feeds 101

Palatability is extremely important when making a feed selection because it’s what drives calves to start and continue eating. A less palatable feed might take a calf three days to really start consuming — that’s 72 hours when a calf’s energy and protein reserves are depleting, and their immune status is in jeopardy.
A palatable calf starter feed:
  • Drives calves to start and continue eating
  • Maintains a calf’s energy and protein reserves
  • Builds rumen microbe populations
  • Maintains strong immune system for healthy calves
  • Supports optimal calf performance
A quality starter feed should also have research-proven consumption. When making your starter feed selection, ask questions about palatability and request intake research.

Selecting a Weaning Ration for Beef Calves

A weaning ration for beef calves should fit your management style and goals for weaning calves. Select a self-fed or hand-fed starter feed based on your labor resources, feeding facilities and performance goals. 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 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 preconditioning freshly weaned calves or newly purchased calves. It's 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 (5 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.
No matter what starter you choose, a nutrition program designed for weaning calves should support healthy calves and more pounds. Calves with proper nutrition have stronger immune systems and are less likely to get sick.

Support the Immune System for Healthy Calves

The Purina® starter line contains RX3® Immune Support Technology, which does more than provide high-quality nutrition. It primes the immune system to address calf health stressors and respiratory challenges head-on.

Research showed calves fed Purina® starters with RX3® Immune Support Technology compared to control calves:
  • Had less variation in average daily gain and were more uniform1
  • Gained 6 pounds more, on average, within a 30-day period4
  • Bounced back faster (when encountering health challenges) and looked healthier quicker2
Achieving more healthy calves helps minimize labor and costs, putting more potential dollars back in your pocket.

Your Partner in Weaning Calves

When considering a weaning ration for beef calves, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Talk through your goals for weaning calves 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.

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

Summary of Purina studies CG131, CG153, CG165 CG171 and PMI studies at University of Minnesota and North Dakota State University.
2 Broadway, P., J. Carroll, N. Burdick Sanchez, A. Word, B. Littlejohn, and D. Paulus Compart. 2018. Prebiotic/probiotic blend attenuates the innate immune response of steers to a BRD challenge. J. Anim. Sci. 96(Suppl 3):23.