An intensive feeding schedule in dairy calves improves growth compared to restricted feeding

The quality of early life nutrition in dairy calves has a strong influence on gene expression, which in term is an important factor influencing average pre-weaning daily gain and future milk production of heifers[1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8]. Rearing conditions, colostrum feeding and amounts and type of milk fed in these trials varied considerably. In 2014, TN started a longitudinal, carried out in the TN dairy research centre the Kempenshof[9], a study which is still continuing today. The aim of the study is to follow the calves included during their entire productive life.

Key takeaways from the research

  • The Kempenshof LifeStart trial compares a LifeStart feeding schedule with a restricted feeding schedule

  • Aim of the trial is to follow animals up to the end of their productive lives

  • LifeStart feeding schedules result in an increase in ADG

Study design

Pairs of female Holstein dairy calves were fed the same amounts of colostrum from the same source and blocked by colostrum, parity and season. A total of 86 calves were included in the study. They had ad libitum access to water, starter feed and straw from day 4 onwards and were all weaned according to a standard protocol at 56 days of age. From day 70 onwards, they were moved to group housing. The only difference between the two groups was the amount of calf milk replacer fed. The LifeStart group was fed 8 litres per day compared to 4 litres per day for the controls, both groups were fed at a concentration of 150 g/l.


Calves in the LifeStart group had a higher bodyweight from day 7 onwards (see figure 1). At weaning, the difference in ADG was 155 gram, at day 70, the difference in ADG between the LifeStart group and the controls was 123 gram.


The results of this study are in line with the findings of many other researchers, who found that elevated planes of nutrition increase average daily gain.


  • 1) Shamay, A., D. Werner, U. Moallem, H. Barash, and I. Bruckental. 2005. Effect of nursing management and skeletal size at weaning on puberty, skeletal growth rate, and milk production during first lactation of dairy heifers. J. Dairy Sci. 88:1460–1469. 2) Faber, S. N., N. E. Faber, T. C. McCauley, and R. L. Ax. 2005. Case study: Effects of colostrum ingestion on lactational performance. Prof. Anim. Sci. 21:420–425. 3) Davis Rincker LE, VandeHaar MJ, Wolf CA, Liesman JS, Chapin LT and Weber Nielsen MS, Effect of intensified feeding of heifer calves on growth, pubertal age, calving age, milk yield, and economics. J. Dairy Sci 94:3554-3567 (2011). 4) Moallem, U., D. Werner, H. Lehrer, M. Zachut, L. Livshitz, S. Yakoby, and A. Shamay. 2010. Long-term effects of ad libitum whole milk prior to weaning and prepubertal protein supplementation on skeletal growth rate and first-lactation milk production. J. Dairy Sci. 93:2639–2650.5) Raeth-Knight, M., H. Chester-Jones, S. Hayes, J. Linn, R. Larson, D. Ziegler, B. Ziegler, and N. Broadwater. 2009. Impact of conventional or intensive milk replacer programs on Holstein heifer performance through six months of age and during first lactation. J. Dairy Sci. 92:799–809.6) Drackley, J. K., B. C. Pollard, H. M. Dann, and J. A. Stamey. 2007. First-lactation milk production for cows fed control or intensifi ed milk replacer programs as calves. J. Dairy Sci. 90(Suppl. 1):614 (Abstr.). 7) Terré, M., C. Tejero, and A. Bach. 2009. Long-term effects on heifer performance of an enhanced growth feeding programme applied during the pre-weaning period. J. Dairy Res. 76:331–339. 8) Soberon F, Raffrenato E, Everett RW and Van Amburgh ME. 2012. Preweaning milk replacer intake and effects on long-term productivity of dairy calves. J. Dairy Sci. 95:783-793. 9) Data on file, Study report R06201A.