Solid food and drinking
The consumption of solid feed is essential in transforming the digestive system so that the heifer functions as a ruminant.
At birth, the calf functions as a monogastric animal: suckling the calf aims to support changes in the digestive system. By gradually adding solid feed to the portion, the rumen develops. This is what is at stake in the milk phase. Milk intake is not sufficient for the animal’s development.
The goal for rumen development is twofold:
- To develop the volume of the rumen: This is essential. A large rumen will allow for a greater intake capacity of the future dairy cow. Greater ingestion = more milk
- To develop the nutrient-absorbing surface. The rumen is made of villi that increase the nutrient-absorbing surface. Greater absorption surface = greater food feeding efficiency
Three essential ingredients:
Concentrate or starter
In the form of Mach or granules, it should be
- Palatable for consumption as of the second week of life
- Digestible to encourage rapid growth of the animal
Energy from the feed comes from starch, primarily corn starch, which ferments less than wheat or barley starch. The more the starch ferments, the higher the risk of acidosis (linked to the aspect of fermentations in lactate-type VFA).
The concentrate will be given at will from the second week of life. Intake must be renewed regularly so that the calf always has palatable feed at its disposal.
Straw or hay
Fodder will contribute to development of the rumen’s volume. It is preferable to use long-stemmed straw to stimulate rumination. The advantage of straw is that it has a constant nutritional value albeit weak. This is not the case for hay, which can be too high in energy and irregular over time.
Be sure the animal can access fodder.
Water is the third essential ingredient for the rumen to function correctly.
Water distribution, in addition to milk feed, is necessary for the correct development of ruminal bacteria. Make sure that the water has a consistent bacteriological quality.
Without water, there will be an impact on the consumption and digestibility of fodder