3 Practical Calf Feed Tips for Cattle Farms

Whether your cattle farm is new or seasoned, reviewing calf feed best practices can ensure that your calves grow up healthy and productive. 

Keeping calves happy is about finding a balance. That balance must exist between providing a nutritious diet, preventing contamination and illness, and getting a return on your investment.

To help you raise healthy calves, we’ve put together this guide that will provide 3 must-follow tips. Keep reading to find out how and why these tips will keep your calves healthy and productive.

3 Practical Calf Feed Tips

There are many ways you can keep your cattle healthy, but when it comes to calves, you’ll want to adhere to tips specific to them.

Calves are still developing, and one of the elements of that development is the creation of rumens. In ruminant animals, the rumen is the pouch that ferments ingested food so that the animal can derive necessary nutrients.

Without the proper development of the rumen, calves won’t gain weight. On dairy farms, they won’t produce as much milk as they could.

The stakes are high, so follow these calf feed tips on your cattle farm.

Tip #1: Add Roughage

If you just give feed to your calves, they won’t have a proper diet. Adding roughage, or using a Total Mixed Rations (TMR) feeding method can improve milk production by 5%.

Employing the TMR method also results in healthier calves, so even if you’re not raising them for dairy production, you’ll want to use this method.

The reason is that calves do not graze in the pasture before they’re weaned. A calf that eats only feed can founder, which doesn’t help your bottom line at all.

How much roughage should you add? This depends on several factors, the most important of which is the age of the calf.  

By adding roughage, calves’ rumens develop properly and that leads to a healthier adult. A healthier adult leads to a better return on investment.

Tip #2: Feed Calves Clean Hay and Water

Have you ever traveled to a foreign country and gotten sick off of the water? This can easily happen because your digestive system doesn’t possess the right bacteria to process what’s living in the water. 

The result can be acute illness or even a parasite.

Calves can get parasites too, and they’re even more susceptible to them than adult cattle. It’s not just parasites though–calves can catch illnesses just like people can.

In fact, some can even be passed from calf to human. By protecting your calves, you’re protecting yourself, your employees, and your loved ones.

Why is water a concern?

Calf feed particles can sour water, and without fresh water, calves may suffer a 38% drop in weight gain.

That deficit in weight gain can not only impact milk production but can also negatively affect the health of the cow as it grows up. 

Acute diseases can kill an animal or human, and that’s not only a cruel way to die, but it can represent a sizeable loss of investment for you and your farm.

Check your calves’ water twice a day to ensure there’s nothing floating in it or growing in it. Give them clean water because they–and you–deserve it.

How do I keep hay healthy?

Keeping a healthy stock of hay available for calves and grown cattle alike can provide a varied diet. But hay that sits around all day in the heat, and hay that gets damp, can be prime housing for some nasty bugs.

In order to keep hay healthy, we recommend using a hay rack instead of letting calves eat hay directly off of the ground. This provides air flow, which makes it more likely the hay will not grow germs and spread disease. 

Tip #3: Wean Calves on Clean-Mown Fields

Even though the fields you use also fall into the category of preventing ingestion of parasites, we wanted to include it as a separate tip.

Here’s why: It can be easy to become complacent once a calf is ready to wean and start grazing.

This is especially true because grown cattle have more resistance to parasites than calves do. But even if they’re ready to wean, it’s important that they’re still eating clean calf feed.

Parasites thrive in long, unmown grass. When the calf eats this grass and ruminates it, the parasites work their way into the animal’s system.

Some parasites are worse than others, but it’s important to remember that you can’t know what’s growing out there, and some can lead to death.

That’s why it’s crucial that your calves’ first field-grazing experiences are on a freshly mown field. You’ll want to make sure that your pasture is ready to go at least a month in advance, more in some cases if your farm is in a dryer climate.

Why pasture-wean?

You might wonder why you should bother to pasture-wean your calves if there’s even the slightest chance it might make them sick. There are many benefits to this, not the least of which is that the calves will be less stressed.

As with humans, stress can play an important role in the health of animals, including cattle. Weaning is a stressful process and calves suffering from stress are all the more likely to get sick.

If you prepare your pasture with the right type of feed and make sure to keep it short to prevent parasitic infestation, your calves should wean and feed with ease, growing to a productive size to provide dairy, beef, or more calves.

Bonus Tip: Store Grain the Right Way

We’ve talked a lot in this article about feeding calves so that they don’t get sick. That’s the top concern when raising and weaning cattle–keeping them healthy so they will grow.

One way to ensure that your calves stay healthy is to utilize proper grain storage. There are lots of options available to cattle farmers and ranchers. 

Some storage systems are automated, some are not, for example. To find the right grain storage solution that fits your budget and your needs, contact us today.