Dairy

How to Feed Calf Starter

Christie Underwood, Ph.D.

Calf and Heifer Specialist – Texas, New Mexico, Kansas, Colorado and Arizona

Begin offering calf starter three days after the calf is born. Provide a handful of calf starter in a shallow bucket and gradually increase the amount of starter as calves grow. For optimal calf growth and nutrition, feed fresh calf starter and water daily.
 
Calves ranging in age from 1 day to 12 weeks old have different nutritional needs, and calf starter needs are no exception.
 
As a calf raiser, it’s your job to avoid wasting feed and help improve calf growth performance. But, there is a delicate balance. You don’t want to overfeed calf starter to younger calves. At the same time, you don’t want older calves run out. Keeping calf starter and water fresh and readily available is vital to maintain optimal calf growth.

When should you begin giving starter to your calves? Find out:

First two weeks of lifeA quick easy guide on how to feed calf starter.

Within the first two weeks of life, calves typically consume little calf starter and are more dependent upon liquid nutrition.
 
During this phase, replace calf starter every day and discard old feed. Stale calf starter may look ok to eat but may not be palatable. To put it into human perspective, compare stale feed to a cracker that has been left out for a day or two. It may look just like the crackers left in the package but doesn’t taste fresh and crisp.

Three to four weeks old

You’ll likely notice an increase in calf starter intake by three to four weeks of age. Monitor feed intake closely. If you don’t notice the intake increase and adjust feeding accordingly, calf growth may suffer due to inadequate nutrition.
 
Also pay attention to how much feed is left. If calves are finishing their feed on a regular basis, then their daily allotment should be increased.

Four to eight weeks old

By the time calves reach weaning age they should be consuming higher amounts of calf starter. Calf starter intake may even double. Be aware of potential spikes in consumption and be ready to meet calves’ increased appetites.

Eight to 12 weeks old

As calves continue to grow, calf starter consumption increases significantly. Don’t limit intake at this stage of development and don’t allow calves to go periods of time without calf starter.
 
Once calves reach 12 weeks old, introduce a calf grower feed. Grower feeds can help calves transition more easily to a high-fiber diet.
 
Now brush up on calf health basics to keep your calves, happy, healthy and growing. Like this information? Sign up to receive our monthly management tips.