Additional pre-weaning growth increases milk production up to the third lactation
Many authors have shown that pre-weaning growth is correlated with a higher milk production in the first lactation[1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8]. Soberon et al. studied the effect of pre-weaning nutrition levels and average daily growth on 1st lactation performance and on lifetime production.
Key takeaways from the research
Metabolic programming through high levels of early life nutrition will increase future milk production
Metabolic programming through intensive feeding should start immediately after birth and should last at least up to 5 weeks of age
For every kg of extra pre-weaning growth, heifers produce 970 kg extra milk during the first lactation
Measured over 3 lactations, metabolic programming has a highly positive impact on lifetime production of dairy cows
A total of 1,244 records from the Cornell University dairy herd and 624 records from a commercial farm were studied. Pre-weaning average daily gain, energy intake from milk replacer as a multiple of maintenance and first, second and third lactation milk yields were recorded.
The growth objective for both farms was to double birth weight at weaning. This was achieved by intensive calf milk replacer feeding during the pre-weaning period and by increased starter intake.
Results Cornell herd
In the Cornell herd, pre-weaning average daily gain was 820 gram and was significantly correlated with first lactation yield:
- For every extra 1 kg of pre-weaning average daily gain first lactation heifers produced 850 kg more milk
- For every Mcal of metabolizable energy intake above maintenance they produced 235 kg more milk
- In the 450 cows that lasted 3 lactations, every 1 kg of extra pre-weaning gain resulted in 2,280 kg extra milk for the 3 lactations combined
Results commercial herd
In the commercial herd, pre-weaning average daily gain ranged 660 gram and was significantly correlated with first lactation yield:
- For every extra 1 kg of pre-weaning average daily gain, first lactation heifers produced 1,114 kg more milk
- For every extra 1 kg of pre-pubertal average daily gain, first lactation heifers produced 3,281 kg more milk
- In the 271 cows that lasted 3 lactations, every 1 kg of extra pre-weaning gain resulted in 1,287 kg extra milk for the 3 lactations combined
When combining the results from both farms, every extra 1 kg of pre-weaning average daily gain resulted in an extra 970 kg milk in the first lactation.
The authors concluded that lifetime performance is influenced by early life nutrition and growth. Metabolic programming that occurs during the first 2 month has lifelong implications for milk production. It is not fully understood until what age heifer calves are responsive to high levels of nutrition, but calf feeding schedules with elevated levels of nutrition should start immediately after birth and last up to at least 5 weeks of age. The intensive feeding should be in the form of liquid feed.
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