Calf health, growth, and productivity rely heavily on nutrition and management practices. Every heifer calf born on a dairy farm represents an opportunity to maintain or increase herd size, to improve the herd genetically, or to improve economic returns to the farm. The objectives of raising the newborn calf to weaning age are optimizing growth and minimizing health problems. To accomplish these goals, it is necessary to understand the calf’s digestive system, immune system, and nutrient needs, as well as the feed options available to meet those needs.
At birth, the dairy calf ’s digestive system is underdeveloped. From birth to about 2 weeks of age, the calf is a monogastric, or simple-stomached, animal. The abomasum is the only stomach compartment actively involved in digestion, and milk or milk replacer provides nutrients. As the calf begins to eat dry feeds, particularly grains containing readily fermentable carbohydrates, the rumen takes on a more important role. The stomach compartments grow and change as the calf develops into a ruminant animal. The fascinating differences between calves and mature ruminants create unique nutritional needs for preweaned calves.
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Feeding the Newborn Dairy Calf