Nutrition For Weaned Calves

The first month-or-so after a calf is weaned is probably the most stressful time of its life. It's learning to eat new feed, going through a period of fast growth, and is more susceptible to disease and digestive upsets.

Greg Lardy is the animal science department head at North Dakota State University. He says it's important that just-weaned calves receive the right energy and nutrition in their diets.

"If we're looking at a calf that's 500-550-pounds, let's say, at weaning time, we want to make sure that that calf has got at least 12% crude protein in the diet," says Lardy. "In situations where they don't, they're going to have lower gains, lower productivity, and we also run the risk of compromising that calf's ability to fight the immune challenges that it's going to face."

As young calves transition into a new diet, Lardy says they should be offered a dry mix of feeds such as grain or concentrate and forages.

"Eventually you're going to want that weaned calf probably to be consuming somewhere between 6-8 pounds of grain, and about the same amount of forage. That's going to be kind of a general guideline," he says. "About a 50-50 mix of concentrate and roughage is going to get you a gain that's going to be in that two-to-two-and-a-half pound-a-day range."

Diet changes should be done gradually over several days, allowing the calves to adapt. You may need to supplement with calcium, phosphorous, potassium and Vitamins A, D, and E.

Lardy says calves also need fresh water that is free of contaminants because if the calves won't drink it, their feed consumption goes down as well.

Learn more about nutrition for weaned calves