Effects of ad libitum milk intake on dairy calves

J Dairy Sci. 2002 Nov;85(11):3054-8. doi: 10.3168/jds.S0022-0302(02)74391-9.


Conventional milk feeding for calves (by bucket twice daily at a total of 10% of body weight) was compared with feeding milk for ad libitum consumption from a nipple. Calves were weaned gradually between d 37 and 42 by diluting the milk with water, and body weight and feed consumption were followed until d 63. Calves fed ad libitum drank 89% more milk than calves fed conventionally during the preweaning period, but the ad libitum-fed calves ate only 16% as much calf starter and 17% as much hay. Consumption of starter and hay increased rapidly after weaning, and treatment differences disappeared. Probably as a result of the much higher intake of milk, the ad libitum-fed calves gained 63% more weight than the conventionally fed calves before weaning, resulting in a 10.5-kg weight advantage on d 35. During and immediately after weaning, the rate of weight gain slowed for both treatment groups, but recovered by approximaely d 49. There were no treatment differences in weight gains over the weaning or postweaning periods, and at the end of the experiment on d 63, the calves fed ad libitum maintained an advantage in mean (+/- SEM) body weight (89.07 +/- 2.47 kg vs 81.07 +/- 2.47 kg for the conventionally fed calves). Incidence of diarrhea was low and did not differ between treatment groups. We conclude that ad libitum nipple feeding of milk to dairy calves can allow for increased milk intake and weight gain with no detrimental effects on intake of solid food after weaning.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animal Feed
  • Animal Nutritional Physiological Phenomena*
  • Animals
  • Animals, Newborn
  • Cattle / growth & development*
  • Cattle Diseases / epidemiology
  • Diarrhea / epidemiology
  • Diarrhea / veterinary
  • Female
  • Food, Formulated
  • Incidence
  • Milk*
  • Weaning*
  • Weight Gain